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Boiling Mudpot: Home for Extremophiles
Boiling Mudpot, Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Credit & Copyright: Dr. Bruce G.
Hell," a section of Lassen
Volcanic National Park in northern California. Here, in the southern
extent of the Cascade
Mountains, mudpots fume and boil with scalding heat.
However, far from being sterile, this is habitat to microorganisms that thrive in the extreme temperature. They are appropriately named "extremophiles," or extreme-condition-loving organisms. Extremophiles include sulfur-eating bacteria (chemotrophs), algae that persist in high temperatures (thermophiles), microbes thriving below Antarctic ice, microorganisms that live in salt-rich environments (halophiles), and other organisms ... including the recently-described Archeans that inhabitant hot springs, rift vents in the ocean bottom, and extremely alkaline or acidic waters.
Archeans have also been found in the digestive tract of cows, termites, and marine life where they produce methane ... and in oxygen-free mud marshes ... and even in underground oil deposits. Archeans, also called Archaebacteria, constitute a new domain of organisms.
NASA's experiments with extremophiles have shown how yeast and microorganisms can survive extreme conditions of the tops of California's White Mountains. Such experiments can reveal the surprising range of conditions in which life can persist ... and perhaps where we might look for life on other worlds. Some scientists conclude that all life on Earth evolved from ancient extremophile bacteria, which may be thriving elsewhere.
Next week's picture: Leafhopper
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