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What are Extremophiles?

Michael Anissimov
By
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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An extremophile is any microbe that thrives in extreme conditions of temperature, pressure, salinity, or concentrations of hostile chemicals. Many extremophiles belong to the kingdom Archaea, also known as Archaebacteria, and most known Archaebacteria are extremophiles. There are also extremophiles to be found outside the kingdom Archaea; for example there are bacteria and eukaryotic prokaryotes that are extremophiles, as well as species of worm, crustacean, and krill.

Following are different types of extremophiles. Some extremophiles may fit into more than one category:

  • Acidophile: An organism with an optimum pH level at or below pH 3.
  • Alkaliphile: An organism with optimal growth at pH levels of 9 or above.
  • Endolith: An organism that lives inside rocks.
  • Halophile: An organism requiring at least 2M of NaCl for growth.
  • Hyperthermophile: An organism that can thrive at temperatures between 80-110°C (176-230°F).
  • Hypolith: An organism that lives inside rocks in cold deserts.
  • Metalotolerant: capable of tolerating high levels of heavy metals, such as copper, cadmium, arsenic, and zinc.
  • Oligotroph: An organism capable of growth in nutritionally limited environments.
  • Piezophile: An organism that lives optimally at high hydrostatic pressure.
  • Polyextremophile: An organism that can survive different extreme conditions.
  • Psychrophile: An organism that can thrive at temperatures of 15°C (59°F) or lower.
  • Radioresistant: resistant to high levels of ionizing radiation.
  • Thermophile: An organism that can thrive at temperatures between 60-80°C (140-176°F).
  • Xerophile: An organism that can grow in environments with a low water activity.

The Pompeii worm, an extremophile, lives on the floor of the ocean clustered next to hydrothermal vents. Living at temperatures up to 176°F (80°C), these animals are the most heat-tolerant known to science, and they aren't even unicellular. Because they live in such isolated areas, many extremophiles weren't discovered until the 1970s.

Perhaps the most memorable example of an extremophile is a bacteria, Streptococcus mitis, that was found embedded in the camera of the lunar probe Surveyor 3 by Apollo 12 astronauts. This bacteria had survived on the surface of the moon for three years. Scientists sometimes study extremophiles as potential models of what life might look like or how it would operate on other worlds.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All Things Nature contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By anon169032 — On Apr 19, 2011

how many archeabacteria are there?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All Things Nature contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics,...
Learn more
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