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Thermophile and cryophile archaea and bacteria

Thermophile and cryophile archaea and bacteria

Extremophilic organisms are capable of growth in extreme environments. Thermophiles are adapted to high temperatures (up to 122°C) while cryophiles (or psychrophiles) live at low temperatures (down to -20°C).Some of these organismsare obligate thermophiles,thriving at extreme temperatures,while others are thermotolerant although with suboptimal growth.

Extreme cold and hot environments are ubiquitous on Earth, occupying a big surface of the planet, despite these habitats are incompatible with many forms of life (mesophile organisms, with optimal growth between 20°C and 45°C). However, extremophile species have been identified in the three domains of life, including animals and plants.

Phyolgenetic tree representing the three domains of life bacteria, archaea and eukarya

Phyolgenetic tree representing the three domains of life: bacteria, archaea and eukarya. Thermophile organisms have been identified in every branch of the represented tree of life(Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook, 2017).

Thermophile and cryophile archaea and bacteria are extremophiles adapted to temperature butas well to other factors linked to theirextreme habitats, like pH, presence of ice, desiccation orhigh pressure. Examples of these evolutionary adaptationsinclude: modification of membrane lipid composition, amino acid composition leading to thermal stability of proteins (Zeldovich 2007), number of ORFs encoding for heat shock proteins and chaperones, specialized DNA repair systems (Urbieta 2015), and genome size (Sabath 2013).

Horizontal gene transferhas been shown to play an important role in theevolutionary adaptation of thermophiles to extreme conditions, providing an additional level of genome plasticity. Horizontal gene transfer can occur between species of different domains (Schoenfeld 2013, Kumwenda 2014).

With the advent of transcriptomics and sequencing technologies, major contributions in the understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying bacterial adaptation to hot and cold have been made (Walther 2010). Metagenomic analyses don’t require laboratory culture and have revealed: 1) the biodiversity in microbial communities adapted to specific environments and 2) habitat-linked genomic features (Cowan 2015).

Thermophile and cryophile archaea and bacteria have provided very useful tools for molecular biology, like the historical discovery of the Taq DNA polymerase used for PCR.  Nowadays, the knowledge and use of these species, with their unique metabolic and enzymatic activities, iskey forthe development of multiple industrial and biotechnological applications (Urbieta 2015,Quehenberger 2017, Perfumo 2018)


The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone (USA), with waters at more than 70°C, is the habitat of bacteria and archaea thermophile communities.


Zeldovich et al. PLoSComput Biol. 2007 Jan 12;3(1):e5

Urbieta MS et al. Biotechnol Adv. 2015 Nov1;33(6 Pt 1):633-47

Sabath N. et al. Genome Biol Evol. 2013;5(5):966-77

Schoenfeld TW et al., Mol Biol Evol. 2013 Jul; 30(7): 1653–1664.

Kumwenda et al. BMC Genomics. 2014 Sep 25;15:813

Walther J.et al.  2010. Archaea. 2010; 2010: 897585.

Cowan DA et al., CurrOpinMicrobiol. 2015 Jun;25:97-102

Quehenberger Jet al. Front Microbiol. 2017 Dec12;8:2474.

Perfumo A. et al.  Trends Biotechnol. 2018 Mar;36(3):277-289

Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook, 2017, p.132


Additional information in the following Wikipedia pages: Extremophile, Thermophile, Cryophile, Mesophile

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