Felisa Wolfe-Simon

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Felisa Lauren Wolfe-Simon
Felisa Wolfe-Simon 2011 Shankbone.JPG
Wolfe-Simon at the 2011 Time 100 gala
Born Felisa Lauren Wolfe
Residence US
Fields Biochemistry
Microbiology
Astrobiology
Geochemistry
Geomicrobiology
Oceanography
Institutions Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
NASA Astrobiology Institute
US Geological Survey
Rutgers University
Alma mater Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (Ph.D.)
Oberlin College (B.A.)
Oberlin Conservatory of Music (B.M.)
Known for GFAJ-1 bacterium

Felisa Wolfe-Simon is an American microbial geobiologist and biogeochemist. In 2010, Wolfe-Simon led a team that discovered GFAJ-1, an extremophile bacterium that they claimed was capable of substituting arsenic for a small percentage of its phosphorus to sustain its growth, thus advancing the remarkable possibility of non-RNA/DNA-based genetics.[1] However, these conclusions were immediately debated and critiqued in correspondence to the original journal of publication,[2] and have since come to be widely disbelieved.[3] Reports refuting the most significant aspects of the original results have been published in the journal of the original research in 2012.[4][5]

Education and career[edit]

Wolfe-Simon did her undergraduate studies at Oberlin College and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Chemistry and a Bachelor of Music in Oboe Performance and Ethnomusicology at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.[6] She received her Doctor of Philosophy in oceanography from the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University in 2006 with a dissertation titled The Role and Evolution of Superoxide Dismutases in Algae.[7] Later Wolfe-Simon was a NASA research fellow in residence at the US Geological Survey and a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. She is currently at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.[8]

Controversy[edit]

Wolfe-Simon's research focuses on evolutionary microbiology and exotic metabolic pathways. At a conference in 2008 and subsequent 2009 paper, Wolfe-Simon, Paul Davies and Ariel Anbar proposed that arsenate (AsO3−
4
) could serve as a substitute for phosphate (PO3−
4
) in various forms of biochemistry.[9][10] According to Paul Davies, Wolfe-Simon was the one who had the "critical insight" that arsenic might be able to substitute for phosphorus.[11] As late as March 2010, she had been hinting of some shadow biosphere results to the press.[12][13]

Wolfe-Simon processing mud at Mono Lake, 2010

Wolfe-Simon then led a search for such an organism by targeting the naturally occurring arsenic-rich Mono Lake, California. This search led to the discovery of the bacterium GFAJ-1, which her team claimed in a Science on-line article in December 2010 was able to incorporate arsenate as a substitute for a small percentage of the typical phosphate in its DNA and other essential biomolecules.[14] If correct, this would be the only known organism to be capable of replacing phosphorus in its DNA and other vital biochemical functions.[15][16][17] The Science publication and an hour-long December 2, 2010 NASA news conference were publicized and led to "wild speculations on the Web about extraterrestrial life".[18] Wolfe-Simon was the only one of the paper's authors at that news conference.[19] The news conference was promptly met with criticism by scientists and journalists.[20] In the following month, Wolfe-Simon (and her co-authors and NASA) responded to criticisms through an online FAQ and an exclusive interview with a Science reporter, but also announced they would not respond further outside scientific peer-review.[21][22][23][24][25][26] Wolfe-Simon left USGS in May 2011 to pursue her research elsewhere.[27] Wolfe-Simon maintains she did not leave voluntarily, but was "effectively evicted" from the USGS group.[28] Concerns were raised[by whom?] in 2012 about the behavior of Wolfe-Simon's co-authors.[29][full citation needed]

The Science article "A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus" appeared in the June 3, 2011 print version of Science;[30] it had remained on the "Publication ahead of print" ScienceXpress page for six months after acceptance for publication.[31]

However, researchers from the University of British Columbia and Princeton University performed studies in which they used a variety of different techniques to investigate the presence of arsenic in the DNA of GFAJ-1 and published their results in early 2012. The group found no detectable arsenic in the DNA of the bacterium. In addition they found that the strain did not grow in the presence of arsenate, further supporting the absence of the element and its lack of participation in essential biological processes.[32][33]

Following the publication of the articles challenging the conclusions of the original Science article first describing GFAJ-1 the website Retraction Watch argued that the original article should be retracted because of misrepresentation of critical data.[34][35] As of April 2013, no retraction had been announced.

Recognition[edit]

In 2006 Wolfe-Simon was awarded a National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellowship [36] to support work done at Harvard University and Arizona State University. In 2010, she received a Kavli Fellowship from the United States National Academy of Sciences.

Publications[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wolfe-Simon, F., Blum, J.S., Kulp, T.R., Gordon, G.W., Hoeft, S.E., Pett-Ridge, J., Stolz, J.F., Webb, S.M., Weber, P.K., Davies, P.C.W., Anbar, A.D. & Oremland, R.S. (2010). A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus. Science 332 (6034): 1163–6. Bibcode 2011Sci...332.1163W. doi:10.1126/science.1197258. PMID 21127214.
  2. ^ Wolfe-Simon, F., Blum, J.S., Kulp, T.R., Gordon, G.W., Hoeft, S.E., Pett-Ridge, J., Stolz, J.F., Webb, S.M., Weber, P.K., Davies, P.C.W., Anbar, A.D. & Oremland, R.S. Response to Comments on "A Bacterium That Can Grow Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus, Science, 27 May 2011, and references therein. Bibcode 2011Sci...332.1149W. doi:10.1126/science.1202098. Accessed 30 May 2011
  3. ^ Drahl, C. The Arsenic-Based-Life Aftermath. Researchers challenge a sensational claim, while others revisit arsenic biochemistry, Chem Eng News 90(5), 42-47, January 30, 2012. http://cen.acs.org/articles/90/i5/Arsenic-Based-Life-Aftermath.html; accessed 13 October 2012
  4. ^ Science. July 8, 2012. GFAJ-1 Is an Arsenate-Resistant, Phosphate-Dependent Organism. doi: 10.1126/science.1218455. Accessed July 10, 2012.
  5. ^ Science. July 8, 2012. Absence of Detectable Arsenate in DNA from Arsenate-Grown GFAJ-1 Cells.
  6. ^ "Wolfe-Simon CV". [dead link]
  7. ^ Wolfe-Simon, Felisa (2006). The Role and Evolution of Superoxide Dismutases in Algae (Ph.D. thesis). Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  8. ^ Studies say report of arsenic-loving bacteria is false (AP)
  9. ^ Wolfe-Simon, Felisa, Paul C.W Davies, and Ariel D. Anbar (2009). "Did Nature Also Choose Arsenic?". International Journal of Astrobiology 8 (2): 69–74. Bibcode:2009IJAsB...8...69W. doi:10.1017/S1473550408004394. 
  10. ^ Early life could have relied on 'arsenic DNA' 26 April 2008, Michael Reilly, New Scientist
  11. ^ "Discovery of new life put down to strong self-belief". December 3, 2010. 
  12. ^ Could the Mono Lake arsenic prove there is a shadow biosphere?
  13. ^ NASA – Astrobiology Magazine: "Searching for Alien Life, on Earth" October 2009
  14. ^ Felisa Wolfe-Simon et al. (2010-12-02). "A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus". Science 332 (6034): 1163–6. Bibcode:2011Sci...332.1163W. doi:10.1126/science.1197258. PMID 21127214. 
  15. ^ Alla Katsnelson. "Arsenic-eating microbe may redefine chemistry of life". Nature News. 
  16. ^ Thriving on Arsenic Henry Bortman, Astrobiology Magazine, 2010-12-02
  17. ^ Response to Questions Concerning the Science Article December 16, 2010
  18. ^ http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/12/arsenic-researcher-asks-for-time.html
  19. ^ NASA media advisory : M10-167 Nov. 29, 2010
  20. ^ Pennisi, Elizabeth. "Exclusive Interview: Discoverer of Arsenic Bacteria, in the Eye of the Storm". Science. Retrieved 21 December 2010.  Zimmer, Carl (7 December 2010). "Scientists see fatal flaws in the NASA study of arsenic-based life". Slate. Retrieved 7 December 2010. 
  21. ^ What Poison? Bacterium Uses Arsenic to Build DNA and Other Molecules by Elizabeth Pennisi, Science, 3 December 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6009 p. 1302 doi: 10.1126/science.330.6009.1302
  22. ^ Exclusive Interview: Discoverer of Arsenic Bacteria, in the Eye of the Storm by Elizabeth Pennisi, 20 December 2010
  23. ^ Discoverer Asks for Time, Patience Over Arsenic Bacteria Controversy by Elizabeth Pennisi, Science, 24 December 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6012 pp. 1734-1735 doi: 10.1126/science.330.6012.1734
  24. ^ Poisoned Debate Encircles a Microbe Study's Result by Dennis Overbye, December 13, 2010
  25. ^ Backing off an arsenic-eating claim By Faye Flam, Dec. 17, 2010
  26. ^ Arsenic about face: NASA's arsenic debacle tells us a lot about what's wrong about the relationship between science, peer review and the media in the 21st century by Martin Robbins, 2010-12-08
  27. ^ Pennisi, E. (2011). "Concerns About Arsenic-Laden Bacterium Aired". Science 332 (6034): 1136–1137. doi:10.1126/science.332.6034.1136. PMID 21636751.  edit
  28. ^ http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-09/scientist-strange-land
  29. ^ http://rrresearch.fieldofscience.com/2012/02/authorship-without-responsibility.html
  30. ^ Wolfe-Simon, Felisa; Blum, Jodi Switzer; Kulp, Thomas R.; Gordon, Gwyneth W.; Hoeft, Shelley E.; Pett-Ridge, Jennifer; Stolz, John F.; Webb, Samuel M.; Weber, Peter K.; Davies, Paul C. W.; Anbar, Ariel D.; Oremland, Ronald S. (2010-12-02). "A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus". Science 332 (6034): 1163–1166. Bibcode:2011Sci...332.1163W. doi:10.1126/science.1197258. PMID 21127214. Retrieved 2011-06-08. 
  31. ^ ScienceXpress Retrieved 2011 March 28, 2011
  32. ^ "Study challenges existence of arsenic-based life", Nature, January 20, 2012
  33. ^ Rosemary Redfield at al. (2012). "Absence of detectable arsenate in DNA from arsenate-grown GFAJ-1 cells.". arXiv. 
  34. ^ http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/despite-refutation-science-arsenic-life-paper-deserves-retraction-scientist-argues/#comments
  35. ^ http://www.periodicplayground.com/blog/bp/2013/02/guest-post-david-sanders-why-its-high-time-to-retract-arseniclife
  36. ^ http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic569415.files/pearsonlab/people/people.html

External links[edit]