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Proceedings Paper

Extremophilic microorganisms as candidates for extraterrestrial life
Author(s): Joseph Seckbach; Aharon Oren
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Paper Abstract

Microbial life is found all over the globe. Diverse communities are even found in such places in which extreme conditions with respect of temperature, salinity, pH, and pressure prevail. Many of these environments were until recently considered too harsh to harbor microbial life. The microorganisms adapted to an existence at the edge of life are termed extremophiles. They include members of the Prokaryotes (domains Archaea and Bacteria) and the Eukarya, including algae and protozoa. Extremophilic microbes thrive at low and high temperatures -from subzero levels to above the boiling point of water, at both sides of the pH scale - in acidic as well as in alkaline media, in hypersaline environments with salt concentrations of up to saturation, at high pressure, both in the deep sea and in the terrestrial deep subsurface where they are exposed to pressures of hundreds of atmospheres, and in other extreme conditions. In many cases they tolerate combinations of more than one environmental stress factor. Some of these extremophiles may be considered as "living fossils" since their environment resembles the conditions that may have existed during the time life arose on Earth, more than 3.5 billion years ago. In view of these properties the extremophilic microorganisms may be considered as model organisms when exploring the possibilities of the existence of extraterrestrial life. For example, the microbes discovered in ice cores recovered from the depth of the Lake Vostok in Antarctica may serve as a model simulating conditions prevailing in the permafrost subsurface area of Mars or Jupiter's moon Europa. Microbial life in the Dead Sea or in Great Salt Lake may resemble halophilic life forms that may exist elsewhere in the universe, adapted to life at low water activities. Likewise, hyperthermophilic microorganisms present on Earth in hot springs, hydrothermal vents and other sites heated by volcanic activity in terrestrial or marine areas, may resemble life forms that may exist on hot planets such as Venus.

Paper Details

Date Published: 29 December 2000
PDF: 7 pages
Proc. SPIE 4137, Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology III, (29 December 2000); doi: 10.1117/12.411613
Show Author Affiliations
Joseph Seckbach, Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem (Israel)
Aharon Oren, Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem (Israel)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 4137:
Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology III
Richard B. Hoover, Editor(s)

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