Last modified on April 9, 2019, at 12:08

Felisa Wolfe-Simon

Felisa Wolfe-Simon (born 1978) is an American microbial geobiologist and biogeochemist. In 2010, Wolfe-Simon led a team that discovered GFAJ-1 ("Give Felisa A Job"), an arsenate-resistant bacterium that they claimed was capable of substituting arsenic for a small percentage of the phosphorus in its DNA, even implying that they were extraterrestrial in origin. GFAJ-1 was isolated from arsenic-rich Mono Lake in California. Her team used a radioactive arsenate isotope (73-As) and exotic but inconclusive X-ray absorption studies (XAS measurements) at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL).[1]


Wolfe-Simon is highly educated in biology and chemistry and oceanography. She received a Bachelor of Music in Oboe Performance and Ethnomusicology at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Curiously, Kathleen "Kat" M. Walsh (AKA "Mindspillage") plays the bassoon and viola.

Give Felicia A Job

These claims received wide publicity at the time in part because of a December 2, 2010 NASA press-release style video in which presentation and because of Wolfe-Simon's gender, youth and charisma, talking in the style of Carl Sagan but with more flouncing of her head and her long, curly hair. Senior NASA Senior Communications Official Dwayne Brown did the introduction and Dr. Mary A. Voyte and Dr. Pamela Gales Conrad both beamed with pride while the experienced male scientist expressed caution.[2][3][4][5] Experts soon expressed doubts in her claims but Wolfe-Simon delayed sharing samples of GFAJ-1 for six months. On February 28, 2011, she appeared at TED2011.[6] In April 2011, Time magazine named her to their list of 100 most influential people in the world for 2011.[7] Wolfe-Simon last posted on her Twitter account as "ironlisa" in May 2011.[8] This "science by press conference" soon went the way of cold fusion except that when this estrogen-driven disaster to the reputation of astrobiology went off the cliff, it left no skid marks. In June 2011, she left Ronald Oremland's laboratory at U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. She commented "It's quite possible that my career is over."[9]

In 2011, University of British Columbia microbiologist Rosemary (Rosie) Jeanne Redfield, obtained a sample of GFAJ-1 from Wolfe-Simon's team and attempted to replicate the results. Redfield used more traditional laboratory techniques and in August 2011 published that she failed to reproduce Wolfe-Simon results.[10][11] In 2012, two reports refuting the most significant aspects of the original results were published in the same journal in which the original findings had been previously published.[12][13]

As of 2014, Wolfe-Simon was working at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California.[14] As of 2016, Wolfe-Simon was Annette Chan-Norris '65 and Evan Norris, MD, Endowed Visiting Professor in Science and Technology, Department of Chemistry and Physics at Mills College, a women's college, in Oakland, CA.[15]