What are Extremophiles?

Everything about how important these bacteria
are depends on WHERE they live and HOW they survive!

Here are some examples of WHERE Extremophiles LIVE:
From Acid Mud Pots to Basic Salt Layers

From Boiling Liquids to Ice Layers

Now those are some really EXTREME environments!

HOW do these organisms SURVIVE?
In Yellowstone National Park there are many variations of thermophiles (heat lovers) that survive by using photosynthesis, which is the same process that green plants and algae use in your own backyard! These thermal vents have a greenish yellow tint to them due to the continual photosynthesis of the millions of extremophiles.

WHY are these organisms IMPORTANT?

Bacteria that can survive at temperatures as

high as 240 degrees F or as

low as -90 degrees F

may have useful properties for scientific purposes, for example one thermophile already being used in a process for copying DNA is known as TAQ Polymerase and was found in Yellowstone Park in the US. The research being done by the Priscu Research Group in Antarctica has also already found many forms of extremophiles living in the ice that covers several lakes in the dry valleys of Antarctica. This is an area that was once thought to be devoid of life so these bacteria may have interesting and useful properties just like the ones in Yellowstone.
Furthermore, scientists now believe that life originated in ice. This means that the mechanisms of evolution and development of life found today in Antarctica may be a present day model of the origin of life how it occurred 6.4 billion years ago!

Also life in ICE may mean that life could exist on MARS where ice has been recently found.

But how do Bacteria SURVIVE inside of ICE??

It is impossible for bacteria to survive and reproduce if they are completely frozen. So how have they survived for billions of years in the ices of the earth? The answer lies inside the ice.

When ice forms in your freezer it forms quickly, so quickly that impurities in the water are hastily incorporated into the ice as well. This does not occur in Antarctica. The ices that year round cover the valleys of Antarctica have formed very slowly and at much lower temperatures than ice in your freezer. Because of this Antarctica ice is PURE. Actually when I get there that is the water I will be drinking!

So where are the extremophiles?

The ice in your freezer and Antarctica both form bubbles as air is trapped in the freezing water. Some of these bubbles form lattice networks (see image, right.) Inside these networks of trapped air the temperature is slightly higher than the surrounding ice. Because of this slight increase in temperature some water is able to remain in its liquid phase.

It is inside of this water that rests at the bottom of the bubbles (see image, left) that bacteria are able to survive and thrive.

Delving Deeper:

Take a look for yourself at how the research group that I am with isolates the bacteria that are inside the ice layers of the Antarctica lakes. Priscu Research Group

1 comment:

Joanne F. Gucwa said...

Hello. You have an excellent site!

This is just a short note to let you know that we provided a link to Life in the Extreme in our BioFables series, currently published at our BioTech Circle's BioBlog. The story is at http://www.techmanage.net/tmablog/article.php?story=20080128165801893 and eventually will be incorporated into a set of e-books. We hope this link will be beneficial to you!


Joanne F. Gucwa