An extremophile (from Latin extremus meaning "extreme" and Greek philiā (φιλία) meaning "love") is an organism that thrives in physically or geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to most life on Earth. In contrast, organisms that live in more moderate environments may be termed mesophiles or neutrophiles.
In the 1980s and 1990s, biologists found that microbial life has an amazing flexibility for surviving in extreme environments — niches that are extraordinarily hot, or acidic, for example — that would be completely inhospitable to complex organisms. Some scientists even concluded that life may have begun on Earth in hydrothermal vents far under the ocean's surface. According to astrophysicist Dr. Steinn Sigurdsson, "There are viable bacterial spores that have been found that are 40 million years old on Earth — and we know they're very hardened to radiation." On 6 February 2013, scientists reported that bacteria were found living in the cold and dark in a lake buried a half-mile deep under the ice in Antarctica. On 17 March 2013, researchers reported data that suggested microbial life forms thrive in the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on the Earth. Other researchers reported related studies that microbes thrive inside rocks up to 1900 feet below the sea floor under 8500 feet of ocean off the coast of the northwestern United States. According to one of the researchers,"You can find microbes everywhere — they're extremely adaptable to conditions, and survive wherever they are."
Most known extremophiles are microbes. The domain Archaea contains renowned examples, but extremophiles are present in numerous and diverse genetic lineages of bacteria and archaeans. Furthermore, it is erroneous to use the term extremophile to encompass all archaeans, as some are mesophilic. Neither are all extremophiles unicellular; protostome animals found in similar environments include the Pompeii worm, the psychrophilic Grylloblattidae (insects), Antarctic krill (a crustacean) and Tardigrades (water bears).
There are many classes of extremophiles that range all around the globe, each corresponding to the way its environmental niche differs from mesophilic conditions. These classifications are not exclusive. Many extremophiles fall under multiple categories and termed as polyextremophiles. For example, organisms living inside hot rocks deep under Earth's surface are thermophilic and barophilic such as Thermococcus barophilus. A polyextremophile living at the summit of a mountain in the Atacama Desert might be a radioresistant xerophile, a psychrophile, and an oligotroph. Polyextremophiles are well known for their ability to tolerate both high and low pH levels.
- An organism with optimal growth at pH levels of 3 or below
- An organism with optimal growth at pH levels of 9 or above
- An organism that does not require oxygen for growth such as Spinoloricus Cinzia. Two sub-types exist: facultative anaerobe and obligate anaerobe. Facultative anaerobe can tolerate anaerobic and aerobic condition; however, an obligate anaerobe would die in presence of even trace levels of oxygen.
- An organism that lives in microscopic spaces within rocks, such as pores between aggregate grains; these may also be called Endolith, a term that also includes organisms populating fissures, aquifers, and faults filled with groundwater in the deep subsurface.
- An organism that can thrive at temperatures between 80–122 °C, such as those found in hydrothermal systems
- An organism that lives underneath rocks in cold deserts
- An organism (usually bacteria) whose sole source of carbon is carbon dioxide and exergonic inorganic oxidation (chemolithotrophs) such as Nitrosomonas europaea; these organisms are capable of deriving energy from reduced mineral compounds like pyrites, and are active in geochemical cycling and the weathering of parent bedrock to form soil
- capable of tolerating high levels of dissolved heavy metals in solution, such as copper, cadmium, arsenic, and zinc; examples include Ferroplasma sp., Cupriavidus metallidurans and GFAJ-1.
- An organism capable of growth in nutritionally limited environments
- An organism capable of growth in environments with a high sugar concentration
- An organism that lives optimally at high hydrostatic pressure; common in the deep terrestrial subsurface, as well as in oceanic trenches
- A polyextremophile (faux Ancient Latin/Greek for 'affection for many extremes') is an organism that qualifies as an extremophile under more than one category.
- An organism capable of survival, growth or reproduction at temperatures of -15 °C or lower for extended periods; common in cold soils, permafrost, polar ice, cold ocean water, and in or under alpine snowpack
- Organisms resistant to high levels of ionizing radiation, most commonly ultraviolet radiation, but also including organisms capable of resisting nuclear radiation
- An organism that can thrive at temperatures between 45–122 °C
- Combination of thermophile and acidophile that prefer temperatures of 70–80 °C and pH between 2 and 3
- An organism that can grow in extremely dry, desiccating conditions; this type is exemplified by the soil microbes of the Atacama Desert
Astrobiology is the field concerned with forming theories, such as panspermia, about the distribution, nature, and future of life in the universe. In it, microbial ecologists, astronomers, planetary scientists, geochemists, philosophers, and explorers cooperate constructively to guide the search for life on other planets. Astrobiologists are particularly interested in studying extremophiles, as many organisms of this type are capable of surviving in environments similar to those known to exist on other planets. For example, Mars may have regions in its deep subsurface permafrost that could harbor endolith communities. The subsurface water ocean of Jupiter's moon Europa may harbor life, especially at hypothesized hydrothermal vents at the ocean floor.
Recent research carried out on extremophiles in Japan involved a variety of bacteria including Escherichia coli and Paracoccus denitrificans being subject to conditions of extreme gravity. The bacteria were cultivated while being rotated in an ultracentrifuge at high speeds corresponding to 403,627 times "g" (the normal acceleration due to gravity). Paracoccus denitrificans was one of the bacteria which displayed not only survival but also robust cellular growth under these conditions of hyperacceleration which are usually found only in cosmic environments, such as on very massive stars or in the shock waves of supernovas. Analysis showed that the small size of prokaryotic cells is essential for successful growth under hypergravity. The research has implications on the feasibility of panspermia.
On 26 April 2012, scientists reported that lichen survived and showed remarkable results on the adaptation capacity of photosynthetic activity within the simulation time of 34 days under Martian conditions in the Mars Simulation Laboratory (MSL) maintained by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
On 29 April 2013, French scientists, funded by NASA, reported that, during spaceflight on the International Space Station, microbes seem to adapt to the space environment in ways "not observed on Earth" and in ways that "can lead to increases in growth and virulence".
New sub-types of -philes are identified frequently and the sub-category list for extremophiles is always growing. For example, microbial life lives in the liquid asphalt lake, Pitch Lake. Research indicates that extremophiles inhabit the asphalt lake in populations ranging between 106 to 107 cells/gram. Likewise, until recently boron tolerance was unknown but a strong borophile was discovered in bacteria. With the recent isolation of Bacillus boroniphilus, borophiles came into discussion. Studying these borophiles may help illuminate the mechanisms of both boron toxicity and boron deficiency.
The thermoalkaliphilic catalase, which initiates the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water, was isolated from an organism, Thermus brockianus, found in Yellowstone National Park by Idaho National Laboratory researchers. The catalase operates over a temperature range from 30°C to over 94°C and a pH range from 6-10. This catalase is extremely stable compared to other catalases at high temperatures and pH. In a comparative study, the T. brockianus catalase exhibited a half life of 15 days at 80°C and pH 10 while a catalase derived from Aspergillus niger had a half life of 15 seconds under the same conditions. The catalase will have applications for removal of hydrogen peroxide in industrial processes such as pulp and paper bleaching, textile bleaching, food pasteurization, and surface decontamination of food packaging.
Over 65 prokaryotic species are known to be naturally competent for genetic transformation, the ability to transfer DNA from one cell to another cell followed by integration of the donor DNA into the recipient cell’s chromosome. Several extremophiles are able to carry out species-specific DNA transfer, as described below. However, it is not yet clear how common such a capability is among extremophiles.
The bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans is one of the most radioresistant organisms known. This bacterium can also survive cold, dehydration, vacuum and acid and is thus known as a polyextremophile (see Deinococcus radiodurans). D. radiodurans is competent to perform genetic transformation, and see Transformation (genetics). Recipient cells are able to repair DNA damage in donor transforming DNA that had been UV irradiated as efficiently as they repair cellular DNA when the cells themselves are irradiated. The extreme thermophilic bacterium Thermus thermophilus and other related Thermus species are also capable of genetic transformation.
Halobacterium volcanii, an extreme halophilic archaeon, is capable of natural genetic transformation. Cytoplasmic bridges are formed between cells that appear to be used for DNA transfer from one cell to another in either direction.
Sulfolobus solfataricus and Sulfolobus acidocaldarius are hyperthermophilic archaea. Exposure of these organisms to the DNA damaging agents UV irradiation, bleomycin or mitomycin C induces species-specific cellular aggregation. UV-induced cellular aggregation of S. acidocaldarius mediates chromosomal marker exchange with high frequency. Recombination rates exceed those of uninduced cultures by up to three orders of magnitude. Frols et al. and Ajon et al. hypothesized that cellular aggregation enhances species-specific DNA transfer between Sulfolobus cells in order to repair damaged DNA by means of homologous recombination. Van Wolferen et al. noted that this DNA exchange process may be crucial under DNA damaging conditions such as high temperatures. It has also been suggested that DNA transfer in Sulfolobus may be an early form of sexual interaction similar to the more well-studied bacterial transformation systems that involve species-specific DNA transfer leading to homologous recombinational repair of DNA damage (and see Transformation (genetics)).
Extracellular membrane vesicles (MVs) might be involved in DNA transfer between different hyperthermophilic archaeal species. It has been shown that both plasmids and viral genomes can be transferred via MVs. Notably, a horizontal plasmid transfer has been documented between hyperthermophilic Thermococcus and Methanocaldococcus species, respectively belonging to the orders Thermococcales and Methanococcales.
- Deinococcus radiodurans
- List of microorganisms tested in outer space
- Rampelotto, P. H. (2010). Resistance of microorganisms to extreme environmental conditions and its contribution to Astrobiology. Sustainability, 2, 1602-1623.
- Rothschild, L.J.; Mancinelli, R.L. Life in extreme environments. Nature 2001, 409, 1092-1101
- "Mars Exploration - Press kit" (PDF). NASA. June 2003. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
- BBC Staff (23 August 2011). "Impacts 'more likely' to have spread life from Earth". BBC. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
- Gorman, James (6 February 2013). "Bacteria Found Deep Under Antarctic Ice, Scientists Say". New York Times. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
- Choi, Charles Q. (17 March 2013). "Microbes Thrive in Deepest Spot on Earth". LiveScience. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- Glud, Ronnie; Wenzhöfer, Frank; Middleboe, Mathias; Oguri, Kazumasa; Turnewitsch, Robert; Canfield, Donald E.; Kitazato, Hiroshi (17 March 2013). "High rates of microbial carbon turnover in sediments in the deepest oceanic trench on Earth". Nature Geoscience. Bibcode:2013NatGe...6..284G. doi:10.1038/ngeo1773. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- Oskin, Becky (14 March 2013). "Intraterrestrials: Life Thrives in Ocean Floor". LiveScience. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- Thermococcus barophilus sp. nov., a new barophilic and hyperthermophilic archaeon isolated under high hydrostatic pressure from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent. IJSEM, p. 351-359, 49, 1999.
- Cavicchioli, R. & Thomas, T. 2000. Extremophiles. In: J. Lederberg. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Microbiology, Second Edition, Vol. 2, pp. 317–337. Academic Press, San Diego.
- "Studies refute arsenic bug claim". BBC News. 9 July 2012. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- Patrick Kiefer, Bodo Hattendorf, Detlef Gunter, Julia Vorholt. (8 July 2012). "GFAJ-1 Is an Arsenate-Resistant, Phosphate-Dependent Organism". Science. doi: 10.1126/science.1218455. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- Sunita Sinha, Joshua Rabinowitz, Leonid Kruglyak, Rosemary Redfield (8 July 2012). "Absence of Detectable Arsenate in DNA from Arsenate-Grown GFAJ-1 Cells". Science. doi: 10.1126/science.1219861 . Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- Than, Ker (25 April 2011). "Bacteria Grow Under 400,000 Times Earth's Gravity". National Geographic- Daily News. National Geographic Society. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
- Deguchi, Shigeru; Hirokazu Shimoshige, Mikiko Tsudome, Sada-atsu Mukai, Robert W. Corkery, Susumu Ito, and Koki Horikoshi (2011). "Microbial growth at hyperaccelerations up to 403,627 xg". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (19): 7997. Bibcode:2011PNAS..108.7997D. doi:10.1073/pnas.1018027108. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
- Baldwin, Emily (26 April 2012). "Lichen survives harsh Mars environment". Skymania News. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- de Vera, J.-P.; Kohler, Ulrich (26 April 2012). "The adaptation potential of extremophiles to Martian surface conditions and its implication for the habitability of Mars". European Geosciences Union. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- Tengra FK et al. (29 April 2013). "Spaceflight Promotes Biofilm Formation by Pseudomonas aeruginosa". PLOS ONE 8 (4): e6237. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...862437K. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062437. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
- Microbial Life Found in Hydrocarbon Lake. the physics arXiv blog 15 April 2010.
- Schulze-Makuch, Haque, Antonio, Ali, Hosein, Song, Yang, Zaikova, Beckles, Guinan, Lehto, Hallam. Microbial Life in a Liquid Asphalt Desert.
- A novel highly boron tolerant bacterium, Bacillus boroniphilus sp. nov., isolated from soil, that requires boron for its growth. Extremophiles Vol. 11, p. 217-224.
- Anitori, RP (editor) (2012). Extremophiles: Microbiology and Biotechnology. Caister Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-904455-98-1.
- Johnsborg O, Eldholm V, Håvarstein LS. (2007). Natural genetic transformation: prevalence, mechanisms and function. Res Microbiol 158(10):767-78. Review. PMID 17997281
- Moseley BE, Setlow JK. (1968). Transformation in Micrococcus radiodurans and the ultraviolet sensitivity of its transforming DNA. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 61(1):176-83. PMID 5303325 PMCID: PMC285920
- Koyama Y, Hoshino T, Tomizuka N, Furukawa K. (1986). Genetic transformation of the extreme thermophile Thermus thermophilus and of other Thermus spp. J Bacteriol. 166(1):338-40. PMID 3957870
- Rosenshine I, Tchelet R, Mevarech M. (1989). The mechanism of DNA transfer in the mating system of an archaebacterium. Science 245(4924):1387-9. PMID 2818746
- Fröls S, Ajon M, Wagner M, Teichmann D, Zolghadr B, Folea M, Boekema EJ, Driessen AJ, Schleper C, Albers SV. (2008). UV-inducible cellular aggregation of the hyperthermophilic archaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus is mediated by pili formation. Mol Microbiol 70(4):938-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2008.06459.x. PMID 18990182
- Ajon M, Fröls S, van Wolferen M, Stoecker K, Teichmann D, Driessen AJ, Grogan DW, Albers SV, Schleper C. (2011). UV-inducible DNA exchange in hyperthermophilic archaea mediated by type IV pili. Mol Microbiol 82(4):807-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2011.07861.x. PMID 21999488
- van Wolferen M, Ajon M, Driessen AJ, Albers SV. (2013). How hyperthermophiles adapt to change their lives: DNA exchange in extreme conditions. Extremophiles 17(4):545-63. doi: 10.1007/s00792-013-0552-6. PMID 23712907
- Bernstein H and Bernstein C (2013). Evolutionary Origin and Adaptive Function of Meiosis, Meiosis, Dr. Carol Bernstein (Ed.), ISBN 978-953-51-1197-9, InTech, http://www.intechopen.com/books/meiosis/evolutionary-origin-and-adaptive-function-of-meiosis
- Gaudin M, Gauliard E, Schouten S, Houel-Renault L, Lenormand P, Marguet E, Forterre P. (2013). "Hyperthermophilic archaea produce membrane vesicles that can transfer DNA". Environ Microbiol Rep 5 (1): 109–16. PMID 23757139.
- Krupovic M, Gonnet M, Hania WB, Forterre P, Erauso G (2013). "Insights into dynamics of mobile genetic elements in hyperthermophilic environments from five new Thermococcus plasmids". PLoS One 8 (1): e49044. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049044. PMC 3543421. PMID 23326305.
- Wilson, Z. E. and Brimble, M. A. (January 2009). "Molecules derived from the extremes of life". Nat. Prod. Rep. 26 (1): 44–71. doi:10.1039/b800164m. PMID 19374122.
- Rossi M et al. (July 2003). "Extremophiles 2002". J Bacteriol. 185 (13): 3683–9. doi:10.1128/JB.185.13.3683-3689.2003. PMC 161588. PMID 12813059.
- Satyanarayana, T.; Raghukumar, C.; Shivaji, S. (July 2005). "Extremophilic microbes: Diversity and perspectives". Current Science 89 (1): 78–90.
- C.Michael Hogan (2010). "Extremophile". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council of Science & the Environment, eds. E,Monosson & C.Cleveland.
- Joseph Seckbach, et al.: Polyextremophiles: life under multiple forms of stress. Springer, Dordrecht 2013, ISBN 978-94-007-6488-0.
|Wikinews has related news: Bacteria thrive deep under sea floor|
- Extreme Environments - Science Education Resource Center
- Extremophile Research
- Eukaryotes in extreme environments
- The Research Center of Extremophiles
- DaveDarling's Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight
- The International Society for Extremophiles
- Idaho National Laboratory
- Polyextremophile on David Darling's Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight