Sunday, April 17, 2011

Extremophile Pt. 2 (Life in the Extreme)

Welcome to part two of the extremophile post, Life in the Extreme. Last time we covered all sorts of weird forms of life that lived in extreme environments, from deep below the ocean, to volcanoes, to sulfur caves, to the Antarctica, and I made fun of my cat. Today, more of the same, with some of the most extreme extremophiles yet, record-setting and award-winning even. These things push the boundaries for what is accepted as the "habitable zone". So, lets get to it!




Rushing Fireberry (Pyrococcus furiosus): Found on the Italian island of "Vulcano" in the hot pools around the active volcano, it is the perfect vacation spot... If you like boiling hot volcanic pools that vary from acidic (high pH) to basic (low pH). The 'rushing' part of this organism's name comes from that fact that it is able to double the number of organisms in less than 37 minutes.


Yeti Crab (Kiwa hirsuta): The Yeti Crab is a fuzzy looking guy who hangs out at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean. It enjoys the high pressure and darkness of the deep water, and frequents the hot ocean vents. But since no sunlight reaches the ocean floor, this crustacean is completely blind.

(Credit: D.Janckovik/W.Zillig)

Hot Sulfur Springer (Sulfolobus solfataricus): Another acidic lover, this guy is found in volcanoes, mud pots, and hot springs around the world, including those in Yellowstone National Park, Mount St. Helens, Iceland, Italy, Russia, and Japan. They don't need sunlight for energy so are perfectly fine in the dark, rather they get their energy from eating sulfur and thrive in hot water. They are particularly known for their presence in Japanese hot spring spas, and are not dangerous to humans.

(Credit: CSIC)

Iron Eaters (Ferroplasma acidiphilum): AKA the Acidic Miner. These organisms can be found in the acid mines on Iron Mountain in Northern California. The enjoy their dark mines and the most acidic watery environments you can find, where they munch on Iron and other metals. Early conditions on Earth would have been perfect for these guys, perhaps they are one of the oldest forms of life around.


The World's Toughest Bacterium (Deinococcus radiodurans): AKA "Conan the Bacterium" and the "Terrible Grain." Found all over the world, from elephant dung to granite in the Antarctic dry valleys, this tough little fellow likes high levels of radiation, sunlight, hot and cold places, acidic water, oxygen, and eating metal. It is listed as the world's toughest bacterium in The Guinness Book of World Records because it is the most radioactive resistant organism known. It can also survive dehydration and vacuum making it not just an extremophile, but a polyextremophile.


Water Bear (Tardigrade): The ultimate survivor, the toughest animal (not a bacteria) around, there are more than 1,000 species of tardigrades all over the world, from the tallest mountains to deepest oceans. They can survive almost any environment: hot, very cold, basic (low pH) water, and even the vacuum of space! The Water Bear can actually hibernate without water for at least 10 years. It will wake up good as new with just a drop of water.

So that's all I've got for you, but the list of extremophiles is a long one and growing as more are discovered from the exploration of extreme environments on Earth. These critters represent some of the most unique forms of life that we know of. They help us to understand life and how it came to be on Earth, and possibly what to look for in otherworldly environments.

P.S. Tonight is the last night to vote for Tuesday's topic!


18 comments:

LifeHacks said...

It's impossible to not to believe that these types of lifeforms exist in the universe.

Biff Tanner said...

Conan the Bacterium is a great name

What's going on in the world? said...

The fact that there is such a being as a water bear amazes me :P

Grafted said...

Tardigrades are awesome

Erika said...

Ah wow, one of my first posts on my blog was solely about the tardigrade. Creepy little thing that it is.... xP

That yeti crab is creepy lookin' too.... 0_o

Jay said...

Rushing Fireberry sounds like a delicious name for a candy!

The Earth is indeed awesome!

Patti D. said...

awesome post, how a coincidence that we posted about more or less the same!

mac-and-me said...

life is so diverse, great article

Alphabeta said...

Tardigrade is almost cute looking.

Rick said...

very interesting article! there are so many life forms on, around and in this planet. it's hard to understand.

notforeverybody said...

great post! following...

Jung said...

The idea of "living" will adapt to any circumstance, given a renewable energy source.

Banacek said...

I bet the yeti crab gives good hugs.

G said...

wow life can live anywhere!

Aaron M. Gipson said...

This post makes me think of the episode from the original Star Trek series called "The Devil in the Dark". You probably remember it, a new form of silicon-based life was found in a cave on a mining colony. Everybody thought this thing was just a rock until Spock mind melded with it and confirmed that it was actually a self-aware organism called the "Horta". Even though all of the creatures you have described in this post are carbon-based, it begs the question that in this amazingly intricate web of life we have on this blue planet do we have other forms of life that are right under our nose?

Astronomy Pirate said...

That's a good point Aaron, but I haven't watched much Star Trek, so I haven't seen the episode. But there was recently hubbub about a bacteria that used arsenic instead of phosphorus. The jury is still out on it's validity, there seems to have been some bad practices by the scientists involved, but if so, would drastically change our understanding of life. And it might be that there is all sorts of life out there. Heck, there could be hydrogen-plasma based life on the surface of the Sun, but we have no real way of knowing. It is easiest for us to look for what we know, the other stuff is just speculation.

Astronomy Pirate said...

Also, the first form of intelligence that we are likely to encounter will probably be robotic in nature.

Chuck said...

I love your posts. It's like watching a really good documentary on the discovery channel :D

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