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Microbe swaps a vital element for a toxic one

Scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorous ­–one of six elements considered essential for life — opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about.

The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its body for atoms of arsenic.

Scientists said the results, if confirmed, would expand the notion of what life could be and where it could be. “There is basic mystery, when you look at life,” said Dimitar Sasselov, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director of an institute on the origins of life there, who was not involved in the work. “Nature only uses a restrictive set of molecules and chemical reactions out of many thousands available. This is our first glimmer that maybe there are other options.”

Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., who led the experiment, said, “We’ve cracked open the door to what is possible for life elsewhere in the universe.”

Rangel censured despite pleas for mercy at House hearing

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., his gaze steady and his hands clasped before him, stood silently in the well of the House of Representatives Thursday as Speaker Nancy Pelosi somberly read a resolution censuring him for bringing discredit to the House.

Pelosi issued the punishment minutes after the House voted 333-79 for the censure, the most severe sanction the House can administer short of expulsion.

The vote makes Rangel just the 23rd member of the House to be censured, and the first in nearly three decades.

After receiving his punishment, Rangel, 80, asked for a minute to address his colleagues and told them: “I know in my heart I am not going to be judged by this Congress. I’ll be judged by my life in its entirety.”

Rangel and his allies had pleaded for mercy, arguing his transgressions, which included failure to pay income taxes and misuse of his office to solicit fundraising donations, deserved the more lenient punishment of a reprimand. But that effort failed, 267-146.

The first killing and more crime in town made by Disney

CELEBRATION, Fla. — As if the Thanksgiving killing was not enough to ruin things in this subdivision that Disney designed. Now, tanks and SWAT teams?

Here in a community built 14 years ago by Walt Disney Co. as the happiest subdivision on earth — and which, to be fair, has been largely free from urban strife — two major crimes in the span of less than a week have made even the fake snow that blankets the town square every evening hour on the hour seem a little less cheery.

Late into Thursday night, sheriff’s deputies barricaded several blocks in this neo-traditional town of 10,000 people and miles of white rail fencing, trying to talk a despondent and possibly armed man out of his home.

Sometime during Thanksgiving weekend, Matteo Patrick Giovanditto, 58, was murdered, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said. It was the first killing in Celebration history.