In “Study challenges existence of arsenic-based life” (Nature, 20 January 2012), Erika Check Hayden reports, “Open-science advocates fail to reproduce controversial findings”:
A strange bacterium found in California’s Mono Lake cannot replace the phosphorus in its DNA with arsenic, according to researchers who have been trying to reproduce the results of a controversial report published in Science in 2010.
See also: The Scientist’s top science scandals feature arsenic-based life claim
But Redfield’s methods might leave defenders of the arsenic life hypothesis some wiggle room. For instance, Redfield was unable to grow any cells without adding a small amount of phosphorus. Because it is not clear how much phosphorus was used to grow the bacteria in the original paper, its authors could argue that Redfield’s cells were not sufficiently phosphorus-starved to be forced to use arsenic in its place.
“I fear that there will be a prolonged slow rearguard battle of its advocates until the whole story will finally be forgotten, rather than an outright retraction of the original paper,” says Stefan Oehler, a molecular biologist at the Alexander Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Center in Vari, Greece.
The story was backed by NASA and just had to be true – and thus can only be quietly dropped when another big NASA-approved origin-of-life/life on other planets story blows through.