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Discovery of Arsenic Life Form Redefines Life?

Until recently, it was believed that all living organisms were made up of an intricate combination of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulphur and phosphorous. These elements bond to form the complex strands of DNA and RNA that make up life on earth. However, researchers in California have recently developed a bacterium that can ingest and grow on a diet of arsenic rather than phosphorus. This is significant because it had previously been thought that phosphorous was essential for life, acting as a building-block for DNA. It is also surprising because arsenic is generally considered toxic for most living organisms, although it is chemically similar to phosphorous.

The development of this arsenic-devouring microorganism in a NASA-funded study opens a multitude of doors in the science of biology, and could change the present view of microbiology, genetics and medicine. It has the potential to significantly expand genetic understanding and our notion of life, and calls for many biology textbooks to be rewritten.

Similar leaps in genetic-related research through the Human Genome project have changed the face of modern medicine. The Human Genome Project is an  ongoing genetic research project that began in 1990. Through this program, scientists have established a comprehensive database defining the different genes within human DNA. The purpose of this project was to better understand the makeup and presence of different genes in DNA in order to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of many diseases. Medical researchers have specifically used the information established through the work of the Human Genome Project to analyze the different patient responses to medications based on their genetic structures. Perhaps the development of this tiny bacterium will revolutionize modern science and medicine as the Human Genome Project has done.

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-BS Pharm, PharmD, RPh

Dr. Paul Zickler is a graduate of the University of Wester Ontario in 1972. After graduating from the faculty of medicine, Dr. Zickler practiced as an Emergency Physician for 18 years. He has then operated ambulatory medical and travel clinics for 12 years. Dr. Zickler has become an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of British Columbia, a Director of Professional Programs for the Justice Institute of British Columbia (paramedic academy), a principal investigator for Phase 2 and 3 studies researching vaccines, and a founding member of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association. Dr. Zickler is passionate about combining western prescription medicine and natural medicines.

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