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Life in extreme conditions

Life in extreme conditions

Publish date: 2015-09-09

Powerful storms, strong winds, extreme temperatures or toxic environment – for a human, living in such harsh environment can be very hard, sometimes impossible. Why? In contrary to extremophiles, it did not develop mechanisms enabling survival in extreme conditions.

Tags: extremophiles

Extremophiles are microorganisms able to survive in very adverse conditions – extreme temperatures, pressure, pH or toxicity. Vast majority of them are archeons and bacteria, but some eukaryota can also be found. They often synthesize enzymes of similar features – resistant to adverse conditions, what makes them being superb source of biocatalysts that may be used for optimalisation of numerous biotechnological processes. It lowers the production costs with simultaneous higher efficiency and better quality of the product.

Extremophiles can be divided into several groups, due to their ability to survive in certain conditions. The most important ones are as follows:

  •         Psychorphiles – able to live in temperatures below 15°C
  •         Thermophiles – able to live in temperatures above 80°C
  •         Halophiles – able to live in environment of high salinity
  •         Acido- and alkali-philes – able to survive in low/high pH

There are also high number of another groups, which representants can survive e.g. high sugar concentrations (osmophiles) or radiation (radiophiles).

What do these organisms have in common? What makes them survive and reproduce in conditions impossible for other organisms?

In case of psychro- and thermophiles the key was modification of the proteins. Thermophilic organism have developed substances protecting DNA and preventing denaturation of proteins, whereas psychrophiles possess proteins decreasing the freezing temperature of intracellular liquids and active transport of nutrients in low temperatures. Similar features can be observed in case of acido- and alkaliphiles. Their proteins are stable in certain ranges of pH and they synthesize  substances neutralizing intracellular space.

Proteins and DNA are one issue, but what about osmotic pressure in case of halophiles? The key to success are strategies developed during evolution. The first one is based on synthesis of so called compatible solutes, maintaing low concentration of salt inside the cytoplasm by balancing osmotic potential and pumping out the salt already present in the cell. Another strategy – salting out – is based on maintaing osmotic pressure inside the cell by accumulation of high concentration of potassium chloride with simultaneous pumping out sodium kations.

Further research and observation of extremophiles development may lead to discovery of numerous substances able to revolutionize biotechnological sector. Many extremolytes – the metabolites of extremophiles – are already applied in industry, like DNA polymerases or various proteases and lipases used in food production.

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