Discovery News has reported that NASA announced a significant new development in astrobiology on Thursday, which is likely to impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.

A group of NASA scientists have confirmed that a strange new type of bacterium — which can live and grow entirely off toxic arsenic rather than the usual phosphate — has been discovered deep in the arsenic-filled waters of a California’s MonoLlake. Lead researcher Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a biochemist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, spoke about this amazing discovery:

“It has solved the challenge of being alive in a very different way than we knew of… it was amazing. We have a microbe doing something different than life as we know it. We’ve cracked open the door to what’s possible elsewhere in the universe.”

The bacterium — known as GFAJ-1 — presents the possibility that alternative life forms can exist, or once existed, on Earth.

It opens the floodgates for scientists developing techniques to identify alien life, if it exists. Astrobiologist Ariel Anbar, with Arizona State University, claimed:

“The implications are profound, regardless. The building blocks of life are more flexible that we had previously thought.”

The finding also will spur NASA to rethink how it goes about looking for life, particularly on Mars, the target for a new rover packed with biology and chemistry experiments that is due to be launched next year.

Pamela Conrad — a Mars Science Lab co-investigator with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center – claimed that this discovery will force her to rethink which habitats may be able to support life:

“It makes me have to expand my notion of what environmental constituents might enable habitability… perhaps arsenic is not an essential component for habitability or for life, but it may be one that can be tolerated. And that opens up our perspective to try to understand what other potential components might be tolerated, or in fact even essential that we presently haven’t thought of.”