The World's Hottest Organism!

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by themadchemist, Aug 17, 2003.

  1. themadchemist macrumors 68030


    Jan 31, 2003
    Chi Town
    Well, hottest and still alive, that is.

    Scientists have found at the bottom of the ocean near a magma vent the bacterium Strain 121 (no fancy name yet), which is capable of withstanding higher temperatures than any other organism known to man. It also uses IRON to metabolize organic molecules, instead of oxygen as we do. The latter, though, isn't the big story.

    But an organism that can live in more extreme conditions than before known suggests that the possibility of life existing on other planets is greater than before thought because the window of conditions conducive for life increases.

    This is a really interesting article...Read on

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some may like it hot, but nothing likes it hotter than a weird microbe known as Strain 121. The one-celled organism, captured from a magma vent at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, can survive 266 degrees Fahrenheit (130 degrees Celsius), a temperature no other known life form can tolerate.

    The as-yet-unnamed microbe was able to reproduce and grow vigorously at about 250 degrees F (121 C), the typical temperature used in autoclaves to sterilize medical instruments, said Derek R. Lovley, a University of Massachusetts microbiologist who was the senior author of a study appearing Friday in the journal Science.

    "It has been the dogma in microbiology for 120 years that that temperature would kill any living organism," Lovley said.

    But not Strain 121.

    In laboratory experiments, Lovley and his co-author, Kazem Kashefi, subjected Strain 121 to higher and higher temperatures and it survived each test.

    "We just kept increasing the temperature and it kept living," he said. "Finally, we put it into the autoclave which was supposed to kill everything, but when we pulled it out it was still alive and, in fact, had grown. It amazed us."

    Previously, the most heat tolerant organism known was Pyrolobus fumarii, a microbe recovered in 1997 from a thermal pool in Italy.

    Lovley said Pyrolobus fumarii stops growing at a temperature of 235 degrees F (113 degrees C) and is killed after one hour in an autoclave at 250 degrees (121 degrees C).

    Strain 121, however, seems to enjoy the torrid temperatures inside an autoclave. In 24 hours at 250 degrees F (121 degrees C), the microbe not only lived, but doubled in number.

    When the temperature was raised to 266 degrees F (130 degrees C), Strain 121 stopped growing, but it did survive. When the superheated specimen was cooled down to a mere 217 degrees (103 Celsius), still above the boiling of water, the microbe was alive and able to grow.

    "It will survive that high temperature (266 degrees) but it will not multiply, at least that we could detect," Lovley said.

    Life on other planets?
    Both Strain 121 and Pyrolobus fumarii are members of the unusual life domain known as Archaea. Living organisms are divided in three domains, based on their genetic makeup and cell structure. People, plants and animals are in the Eukaryotic domain, and most germs are in the Eubacteria domain. The third domain, Archaea, are microorganisms that generally live in extreme conditions of heat, cold, pressures or acidity and have a DNA structure unlike the other two.

    Strain 121 was found in samples taken from the stream of water and chemicals spewing from a natural chimney, or smoking vent, in the Juan de Fuca Ridge off the northwest coast of the United States. These chimneys, in about 1 1/2 miles (2.4 kilometers) of water, are built up on the ocean floor by superheated water ejected through vents from magma chambers below. They spew water heated to more than 300 degrees F (149 degrees Celsius), along with dissolved minerals such as sulfur and iron.

    Lovley said Strain 121 uses iron oxide in the vent streams to metabolize organic molecules. In effect, he said the microbe uses iron in the same way that surface-dwelling organisms use oxygen. The very earliest forms of life on Earth, he said, could have been like Strain 121, tolerating high temperatures and using iron for metabolism. Lovley said early in the Earth's history, the planet was iron-rich and oxygen poor, so it is logical that early forms of life could have lived as Strain 121 does now at the bottom of the ocean.

    Finding a microbe that can withstand such high temperatures and pressures also increases the hope that there may be life on other planets in the solar system or elsewhere in the universe, Lovley said.

    "Raising the temperature of life increases that window where you could expect to find some other life form," he said.

    Jan Amend, a Washington University in St. Louis microbial geochemist who is not part of Lovley's team, said the discovery is important because it strengthens the case that early Earth life was sustained using ferric iron instead of oxygen.

    He said it also improves the prospects of finding life beyond the Earth.

    "Any time you have organisms that live at higher temperatures or at higher pressures, that expands the limits of possibility that there might be life elsewhere in our solar system or beyond," said Amend.
  2. Mr. Anderson Moderator emeritus

    Mr. Anderson

    Nov 1, 2001
    I read this earlier and was equally awed. I just think that basing the term 'life' in forms we're more comfortable with is silly. The Strain 121 and others like it prove that the definition is far beyond what had previously been thought.

    Now that it looks like this strain is using different methods to metabolize organic molecules, what's to say that there isn't life on Venus?

    Very cool stuff - and I wouldn't doubt that there are others that are even more suited to higher temps and pressures. :D

  3. themadchemist thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jan 31, 2003
    Chi Town
    I agree with you. While I think that the concept of using different substances to metabolize organic molecules is not new (look at Kingdom Plantae vs. Animalia, for one obvious example), it is an important one.

    Too many people think that there's NO WAY there could be a place just like Earth. But there doesn't have to be...

    I was thinking about this and another thing that would be interesting to discover...

    What actually makes this strain so well adapted for a fiery lifestyle. What kinds of proteins is it producing to make this possible. Does it have specialized organelles to allow this? Maybe geneticists could investigate what genes code for the production of these organelles or these proteins. There would be many applications: Growing food in the desert, for example.

    The same is true of using different compounds to metabolize organic molecules. What if, instead of worrying about whether Mars has enough CO2 to sustain plant life, we could engineer plants that could flourish on the minerals abundant in the upper layer of Mars' crust?

    I should have mentioned this in my first post, but your post got me to thinking, and discoveries like this do more than just suggest the possibility of life. They open doors to investigating how to make the life on which we depend better.
  4. Frohickey macrumors 6502a

    Feb 27, 2003
    I think that life is at the hottest place first before it came to the surface.

    Where else would nutrients be more concentrated that below ground?

    Try reading Dr. Thomas Gold's Deep Hot Biosphere.
  5. wdlove macrumors P6


    Oct 20, 2002
    The organism 121 is very interesting indeed. I just hope that it is friendy to man, not pathogenic. The organism can withstand the temperature used by doctors and hospitals to sterilize equipment. It was always thought that the autoclave temperature could kill any organism known to man. Now we have an exception!
  6. 4409723 Suspended


    Jun 22, 2001
    Here I was thinking we'd have a thread filled with bikini clad women...
  7. D0ct0rteeth macrumors 65816


    Mar 11, 2002
    Franklin, TN
    I thought you guys were hearing stories about me again.. but then I read the titile again. ORGAniSM.

    My mistake :)

  8. wdlove macrumors P6


    Oct 20, 2002
    That is a good one D0ct0rteeth! :p I have gone into threads also to discover, not what I expected!
  9. iJon macrumors 604


    Feb 7, 2002
    and i thought hell was as bad as it gets.

  10. mc68k macrumors 68000


    Apr 16, 2002

    the only group of organisms that i think are as strange or stranger than archea are rotifera.

    …at least from the groups that were presented to us in organismal bio
  11. MrMacMan macrumors 604


    Jul 4, 2001
    1 Block away from NYC.

    I read this on slashdot was it... somewhere anyway I think this is really cool, now we know its even possible tp have such organisms out there!

    I wonder if they had any other test besides heat, like pressure, or radiation...

  12. themadchemist thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jan 31, 2003
    Chi Town
    now if only I could have found an article about bikini clad women able to withstand ungodly temperatures...


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