Hyperthermophiles in Antarctica???

These days it is very hip to do things eXtreme. Don't believe me? Try googling "extreme". I suppose I have jumped on the bandwagon by studying life in one of the most "extreme" environments on Earth (deep sea hydrothermal vents). The environment I study is home to the most thermally tolerant organisms on the planet, living at temperatures well above 100°C (but not boiling because of the extreme pressure). Because of my research interests, I am always on the look out for new discoveries in the realm of "extremophiles" - organisms that thrive in extreme environments. Most of them can not survive conditions we think of as more reasonable.

I was surprised to find this story about scientists exploring the microbial diversity if the Antarctic, which says that they found an unexpected number of heat loving microbes locked in the Antarctic ice. It brings some interesting evolutionary questions to mind, not the least of which is what are those microbes doing there, and how are they adapted to survive such opposite ends of the thermal spectrum? I'll have to think more about that one and get back to you. I can't wait to see what the team publishes!

More like this

It probably doesn't look like Marvin. (from here) The data haven't been released yet, but that's what CNN is reporting: The soil on Mars may contain microbial life, according to a new interpretation of data first collected more than 30 years ago. The search for life on Mars appeared to hit a dead…
I wrote previously about a recent study that found all sorts of bacterial diversity in a place once thought to be rather barren--the human stomach. One of the species they discovered appeared to be related to an extremophile--microbes that live in extreme environments (in this case, a relative of…
Discovery, by nature, has a ripple effect. When one thing is found to be plausible, testable, or true, a suite of potential other truths and plausibilities tend to follow suit. This is the nature of inductive reasoning, the foundation of the scientific method, and the reason why science–as a human…
Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Carl Sagan's death (check out Joel Schlosberg's Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-Thon). He was brilliant at motivating the passions of the public about the unexplored. In some sense Peter and I are trying to follow in his large footsteps to enspire this same…

Mmmmm... Greek prefixes...

Presumably a hypothermophile would like low temperatures (the kind that might give you hypothermia), and probably wouldn't be all that surprising in Antarctica.

Hyperthermophiles on the other hand...

Andy @ #1:

Presumably a hypothermophile would like low temperatures

And then there are the hypnothermophiles - organisms which can thrive at high temperatures thanks to autosuggestion. "It's not hot, it's not hot, it's not hot...."

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 18 Apr 2011 #permalink

Hi Andy,
Thanks very much for catching that typo! I have corrected it.

Cold loving microbes are typically referred to as "psychrophiles". I occasionally see the term "cryophile" as well, but it is far less common.

My guess would be that they're not living there, so much as existing - they evolved/grew in the sort of environments you'd expect to find hyperthermophiles in, and then got transported to areas where they were frozen in the ice. The researchers warming them up gave them a chance to grow again.

This is a perennial question regarding the microbial diversity of the Antarctic Dry Valleys - I did my honours thesis on bacteria and fungi sampled from there, and quite a few of them were straightforward mesophiles, not even psychrotolerant. (No thermophiles, but I don't believe the original culturing protocol for those strains included thermophilic temperatures.) The question then becomes how many of the organisms sampled from there are actually actively growing in that environment. It might be a lot less than is sometimes presumed.

It's not at all unlikely that you'd get hyperthermophiles evolving to survive long-term dormancy at low temperatures, either - at deep sea volcanic vents, they're surrounded by 2 degree seawater; they'd pretty much have to be able to, to be distributed from vent to vent.

(Also, neat to see you blogging!)

By Lucy Stewart (not verified) on 19 Apr 2011 #permalink

All things considered, I would have to say I prefer "cryophiles," it just seems to work better and in a quick skim...

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 20 Apr 2011 #permalink

onlar hemen hemen mümkün olurdu; bunlar 2 derecelik deniz suyu ile kuÅatılacaÄız, derin deniz volkanik delikleri de - Size ya, düÅük sıcaklıklarda uzun vadeli dinlenmesi hayatta geliÅen hyperthermophiles ulaÅacaÄımızı tüm olası de deÄil için havalandırma için havalandırma daÄıtılacaktır.

Lucy - I totally agree with you that it is unlikely that these heat-loving organisms are active in these freezing environments. It makes me wonder why they show up in surveys there and not in other areas. Maybe it takes a low diversity system, or a low biomass system in order to pick up these transient organisms.

Thanks for commenting!