Where are you most and least comfortable? Basically, the average human survives in a nice, safe place with food, oxygen, radiation protection, and naturally room temperature. Well, some organisms aren’t nearly as picky about their environments. They might live in briny pools, deep underground, or by the Chernobyl reactor meltdown site. They have the superhuman (literally, since they’re not human anyways) ability to live in really high or really low temperature, pressure, pH, et cetera…Ladies and gentlemen, we present the extremophiles!
Some are adapted to only live in one extreme environment, like a vacuum or an oxygenless environment, but D. radiodurans (Deinococcus radiodurans, meaning formidable grain that tolerates radiation) can do it all! It specializes in radiation resistance. It can withstand up to 1.5 million rads, up to 3000 times the dose needed to kill a human! Its other immunities, like dehydration, make it a polyextremophile. Whoa. I think NASA might want to recruit this species if they have budget cuts. They need, like, no life support. AND they don’t cause any diseases as far as we know. Yay!
Arthur W. Anderson found this lovely lifeform in 1956 when scientists were trying to figure out whether or not we could sterilize food using high levels of gamma radiation. They subjected a tin of meat to radiation that they thought could kill all lifeforms (do NOT try this at home), but the meat thereafter spoiled, which is when Anderson identified the bacterium in the spotlight. Ta-dah! I wonder if they ever do kick lines under the microscope…that would be really awesome!
Why extremophiles? Well, if there is life on other planets, chances are they don’t live in the same climate there as we do. Heavy atmospheres might make it hard for extraterrestrial amoebas to move their little pseudopods(microscopic fake feet), or it might be too hot or too cold for liquid water. Life on other planets would most likely be like D. radiodurans, or other tough little bacteria. But that’s just an educated guess based on decades of research.
Well then, if you want to become an astrobiologist or a down-to-earth microbiologist. you’ll know just what you’ll be looking for!
It’s an amazing world of science out there. Let’s go exploring!!
A few types of extremophiles
Halophiles: likes a LOT of salt
Endoliths: underground rock-dwellers
Acidophile: prefers really acidic environment, basically low pH
Alkaliphile: loves places with high pH
Anaerobe: survives without oxygen, hence anaerobe. Some hate oxygen, even when it might be the more plentiful method.
Cryophile: likes the cold-sounds a bit like me;)
Thermophile: would like a midsummer trip to Death Valley. They thrive in temperatures exceeding 104 Fahrenheit (40 celsius). Hyperthermophile: they ask to crank up the heat to 176 Fahrenheit (or in other countries, 80 Celsius)