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Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 205–218 | Cite as

What could arsenic bacteria teach us about life?

  • Emily C. ParkeEmail author
Article

Abstract

In this paper, I discuss the recent discovery of alleged arsenic bacteria in Mono Lake, California, and the ensuing debate in the scientific community about the validity and significance of these results. By situating this case in the broader context of projects that search for anomalous life forms, I examine the methodology and upshots of challenging biochemical constraints on living things. I distinguish between a narrower and a broader sense in which we might challenge or change our knowledge of life as the result of such a project, and discuss two different kinds of projects that differ in their potential to overhaul our knowledge of life. I argue that the arsenic bacteria case, while potentially illuminating, is the kind of constraint-challenging project that could not—in spite of what was said when it was presented to the public—change our knowledge of life in the deeper sense.

Keywords

Arsenic bacteria Life Weird life Biochemical constraints Origin of life 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Michael Weisberg, Mark Bedau, Alistair Isaac, two anonymous reviewers, and the audiences at the 2011 conferences of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology and the European Philosophy of Science Association for valuable comments and feedback. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-0822.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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