Extremophiles and How They Can Help

Schill, Dr. Ralph O. Tardigrades or ‘water Bears’ Are the Toughest Creatures on the Planet. N.d. Universität Stuttgart, Germany. Animal Record Holders: Hardiest Animal. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <http://extraordinary-animals.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/article-0-029908E800000578-448_468x413.jpg>.

Extremophiles. Creatures that are smaller than the eye can see, to up to 6 feet long, surviving in conditions no human could last a day in, these creatures could mean a new hope for humanity’s future.

 

If you are anything like me, you probably don’t know what an extremophile is. An extremophile is an organism that has adapted to life in extreme temperature, pressure, or chemical concentration environments[₁]. Some extremophiles you may have heard of include tubeworms, underwater creatures that live in water filled with chemicals reaching boiling temperatures, or the “water bear”, a creature which lives on wet lichens and mosses that can survive drying out, freezing, boiling and the open vacuum of space[₂], or even the elusive “sea monkey”. Here is an interactive look at where extremophiles can be found. But the real point of this blog post is what all this means for humans.

 

Extremophiles and Industry

 

Extremophiles have become a sensation to industry and technology as scientists work to find the ways these extreme organisms are able to survive where they do and how. Scientists have discovered that one of the ways extremophiles are able to survive where they do is by producing enzymes. Enzymes are proteins produced by all living organisms[₃], these enzymes have turned out to hold many lucrative opportunities for industry thus far. One enzyme currently being researched is a protein produced by the extremophile Thermus brockianus which is a very tiny organism found in a geyser in Yellowstone National Park (located in Wyoming, U.S.A.). The enzymes produced have been found to degrade the chemical compound, hydrogen peroxide, which can be used to treat the waste of bleaching. The reason however that this enzyme in particular is so appealing however is that it is from an extremophile.

Pure Energy Centre. Hydrogen_MCP_storage_cylinder-200-bar. Digital image. Pure Energy Centre. Pure Energy Centre, n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <http://pureenergycentre.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Hydrogen_MCP_storage_cylinder-200-bar.jpg?34243c>.

This extremophile has the special property of being able to withstand boiling hot temperatures and high ph contents, both very important in the treatment of bleaching and is much cheaper than other treatment methods[4]. This only becomes more crucial when you go through as many hydrogen peroxide canisters as shown in the picture to the left. This is not the only advancement in this field however, there are many more. Some of these include the Lake Vostok, Antarctica discoveries that have led to cold adapted enzymes used to reduce energy costs and waste production or the discovery of biodegradable biopolymers that can be used to create biodegradable plastic[⁵] on a massive scale or even the Taq DNA Polymerase[₆], which can be used to duplicate specific DNA segments. All of these advancements are only possible through the research on extremophiles.

 

Extremophiles and AstroBiology

 

Astrobiology is a branch of biology that investigates the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. Extremophiles have become a very important part of astrobiology, since they were first discovered and as mentioned in the opening paragraph they could mean a new hope for humanity. In the youtube video below watch for the connections between extremophiles and astrobiology.

 

 

As the Ted-Ed video above has shown, extremophiles have opened up a whole new world of places life could be found on alien worlds. One of these places being Saturn’s moon “Titan”, because of the discovery of cold adaptive organisms such as the ones in Lake Vostok, Antarctica[⁵] or the “Water Bears” we know that the freezing conditions on “Titan” would not necessarily mean that there is no possibility of life. Another way that extremophiles given a new hope to the search for a new life in space is through the formally known tardigrades. The tardigrades were taken into a low-earth orbit by the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) FOTON-M3 spaceship and were exposed to the open vacuum of space. Surprisingly the majority of the tardigrades survived the vacuum and the accompanying cosmic rays. Some of the tardigrades even survived the deathly solar UV radiation found in space which can reach levels up to 1000 times that of earth, and as the Cell Press (the scientific journal that published the experiment) stated, “[the tardigrades] Could reproduce fine after their trip.”[⁷] This means that certain organisms have the ability to survive a trip through the openness of space, further advancing the idea that life could be found beyond earth.

 

Funding

The search for extremophiles does not come cheap and neither does isolating the enzymes in them that are important to scientific research. Most extremophiles are found in very dangerous and/or secluded places, this makes it very expensive to find them, and once they are found expenses continue to arise as scientists must now try to isolate enzymes in the organism and find applications for them[₈]. The benefits greatly outway the cost however. As you can see in the graph to the left, there are so many possible applications for extremophiles and their enzymes that the money spent on research will more than likely be made back. It will also be very beneficial to medical and scientific research, such as, the tardigrades, that as mentioned before, took a trip through space and came back still able to reproduce. Well one of the theories as of how they did this is that the animals were able to repair the DNA damage caused by the vacuum of space. Figuring how the tardigrades were able to do this would be greatly beneficial to the improvement and development of radiation therapy for cancer[₉]. It is because of reasons like those that the research being done on extremophiles is so imperative to the future of humans.

 

Where To Go From Here

 

The story of how extremophiles have helped humans is still incomplete and I foresee that as the years go on their role in the technological advancements of our time will be crucial and will continue to be so until the end of time. Extremophiles will always be around as long as there are dangerous and inhospitable conditions in the universe, so that means that there will always be more to find and research, because of this I believe that the only thing to do is continue the search for extremophiles and their connections to medicine, astrobiology and life itself.

 

What Can I Do?

Just spreading the word of scientific studies and fields like this one, may help to make them more public and popular topics so that maybe they may get more funding and support from the government or charitable organizations. If you enjoy topics such as these you could even consider volunteering at the Ontario Science Centre to help get kids interested in science and technology. Here is how to volunteer.

 

Carry On The Conversation

I would love to hear about what you thought about this post and how I can improve it. I would also like to hear about any science stories you have heard about recently (maybe a link if possible).

 

Well that is it for this blog, but if you enjoyed this topic consider reading more…

More on extremophiles:

http://www.space.com/29010-extreme-creatures-search-for-life-amnh-exhibit.html

http://www.space.com/5817-creature-survives-naked-space.html

 

More on extremophile applications:

http://blogs.biochem.ncsu.edu/industrialapps/

https://depts.washington.edu/nwst/issues/index.php?issueID=spring_2005&storyID=727

 


 

 

American Psychological Association,. ‘Extremophiles’. The American Heritage Science Dictionary 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/extremophile

 

Staff, Space.com. ‘Creature Survives Naked In Space’. Space.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

http://www.space.com/5817-creature-survives-naked-space.html

 

Wentz, Chris. ‘Enzyme From Extremophile Holds Promise For Industrial Applications’. Northwest Science & Technology 2005: Single page. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

https://depts.washington.edu/nwst/issues/index.php?issueID=spring_2005&storyID=727

 

Wentz, Chris. ‘Enzyme From Extremophile Holds Promise For Industrial Applications’. Northwest       Science & Technology 2005: Single page. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

https://depts.washington.edu/nwst/issues/index.php?issueID=spring_2005&storyID=727

 

Clark, Clay. ‘Novel Industrial Applications From Salt Loving Extremophiles’. Biochem Blogs 2013. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

http://blogs.biochem.ncsu.edu/industrialapps/

 

Wentz, Chris. ‘Enzyme From Extremophile Holds Promise For Industrial Applications’. Northwest Science & Technology 2005: Single page. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

https://depts.washington.edu/nwst/issues/index.php?issueID=spring_2005&storyID=727

 

Staff, Space.com. ‘Creature Survives Naked In Space’. Space.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

http://www.space.com/5817-creature-survives-naked-space.html

 

Wentz, Chris. ‘Enzyme From Extremophile Holds Promise For Industrial Applications’. Northwest Science & Technology 2005: Single page. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

https://depts.washington.edu/nwst/issues/index.php?issueID=spring_2005&storyID=727

 

Staff, Space.com. ‘Creature Survives Naked In Space’. Space.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

http://www.space.com/5817-creature-survives-naked-space.html

33 comments on “Extremophiles and How They Can Help

  1. Elliot I says:

    Wow, great article! Extremophiles are a really fascinating and under known topic. I learned about it previously from the TV show “Cosmos, A Spacetime Odyssey” which has an episode on micro animals. The whole show’s on Netflix, and if your interested in science you should check it out. Here’s a quick clip from he show on tardigrades

    • Cameron H says:

      Thank you for commenting. That video was really good and I actually came across a gif from it while I was looking for possible pictures to use in my article. I fixed your comment using the correction comment you also submitted so it works fine now, so thank you for correcting yourself there. I will also definitely check out that show on Netflix, by the way do you know the name of the man in that video because I always seem to forget it. I look forward to hearing a response and once again congrats on the first comment.

  2. Brianna G. says:

    This article was very well written and very informational. However, I was left wondering one thing, since they have the ability to survive extreme conditions, and some can get very large, do they have the potential to harm humans in any way?

    • Cameron H says:

      While I understand what you mean, I think that extremophiles would be only as dangerous to humans as any other animal no matter that in some species they grow to 6 feet long. The thing that makes an extremophile, an extremophile is that it survives in places humans consider to be inhospitable. In different words if a ten foot cave-dwelling monkey that drinks a gallon of ammonia a day attacks a man, any weapon used on it would kill it just as well as a non-extremophile ten foot monkey. I realize this is a very hypothetical and exaggerated point but still brings across my point. Another point to bring up is that the majority of the known extremophiles are unicellular or barely multicellular. The 6 foot long I was talking about in the opening paragraph are tube worms found near volcanic vents in the deep ocean at their full grown size, the only other large extremophile I found are 2 feet long and only eat smaller versions of itself. I know that there is always a possibility of animals hurting humans but extremophiles only pose as big of a threat as any other animal. All of this is just my personal opinion but still I would not be worried about it. Thank you for commenting and I would like to open this question up to others. It was a very good question and I’d love to here more. Please tell me if this helped at all and once again thank you.

      • Brianna G. says:

        Thank you for the in depth response! I have another question, since they can survive in such extreme conditions, how do they respond to conditions humans can tolerate? Does it affect them at all, or do they not venture past what they can survive in?

        • Cameron H says:

          I remember reading that most extremophiles could not survive outside the conditions they are found in. I am sure there are some that can survive in human or semi-human environments as well as plenty that cannot. I’m sorry I cannot provide a more concrete answer than that. As for the second question, I really have no idea. I can only guess that they would eventually venture beyond their home and then they either die or start a new one much like any other organism. I am really sorry this response couldn’t be as in depth but because the majority of extremophiles are so small it is really hard to monitor their movement in the wild. Once again I am sorry but I hoped this helped even a little bit.

  3. Subhan A says:

    A well-written blog post Cameron! I learned a lot, and prior to reading this post, I had no knowledge on this particular topic. Truly interesting! However, there are some ideas to consider. You could include some negative effects of extremophiles. You seem to think that they’re beneficial because they could positively impact scientific research. But adding the negative impacts will help the reader get an overall idea of what an extremophile really is and how they impact our world today. In your “extremophile and industry” paragraph you need to add nested parentheses around the number 3 so that it directs the viewer to the footnotes. Also in that paragraph, you forgot an e at the end of enzyme. Finally, I would advise you to add more periods in your work as some of your sentences are run-on sentences (are too long) and do not allow the reader to take a break while reading. Overall good job.

    • Abiha H. says:

      A very interesting and informative blog post! Certainly a topic that I had no prior knowledge on. However, you could include some of the negative effects of extremophiles. Adding the opposing facts would allow for the audience to truly understand the impact and extent of extremophiles in today’s world. You have extensively analyzed the current and prospective impact of extremophiles on humans, however, the impacts of humans on extremophiles could be discussed as well. Overall, a very educational topic and a highly organized blog post.

      • Cameron H says:

        Thanks for the suggestion. After sadli’s post above I began work on a revision including more negative effects and these more specific suggestions definitely help so keep them coming.

    • Cameron H says:

      thank you for the great suggestions. I have fixed all of the problems I think but I am still working on a revision including more negative effects. once again thank you.

  4. Rauwn s says:

    This is a very interesting and well done post, however I do have a couple questions about extremophiles. 1: can they become dangerous to us as humans? 2: If so what can we do to kill them? 3: Could they advance as a race like humans?

    • Cameron H says:

      Thank you for commenting rstjean. For your first 2 questions I would like you to look over my responses to bgriffit and Ishibli’s comments and see if they answer your question. For question 3 however I just want to start by saying that extremophiles aren’t a species but rather a categorization of organisms. Apparently I didn’t mention that in the article as many people have commented about it. If one of them were able to advance as a race like humans (which is very unlikely) they would probably advance slowly and we would be able to stop them before any damage was caused.

      • Rauwn s says:

        Okay, thank you and i read over those comments and lot more makes sense to me. Extremophiles are really cool i really do like this blog post :).

  5. Jaimee P ;) says:

    Hello! I just wanted to take the time to tell you how great, and packed-full of information this article was! There is so much to know about this topic, and I feel that you covered the basics very well! One thing I can say that you could do better next time is ad more media. I loved the video you posted, it was full of awesome information and it really added to the base of the article, but I feel that this article is rather large and could benefit from greater use of pictures, graphs, and other factual information. I loved the use of citation in the article, but I feel that you left out some parts that you could have cited better. (Some facts that you stated were not cited. How do you know this is correct?) Great article, you obviously know the topic and all your information thoughally. You just need to fine-tune it for a perfect article! On a side note, I feel that the article could have been spiced up with some humor. This will keep the reader interested and reading the article. Amazing job, you will definitely get an A+ even without the information that I have shared with you, but I am just nit-picking! Awesome!

    • Cameron H says:

      I would just like to begin by saying thank you for all the suggestions, this is really helpful. As for your first comment on adding more media, I will definitely take that into consideration and start looking for more media. To be honest I thought of media last and definitely could have spent more time on it. I am not sure what I missed on the citation front but I will definitely take a look and post another reply with my findings. Finally, as for the humor element, it was just that I was afraid to add humor after my last blog post. In my last post I was told humor in a post such as this means it won’t be taken seriously. I will still take another look though. thank you again so much.

  6. Katherine B says:

    This was very well written, and it’s obvious you have a passion for the topic; knowing the writer has an interest in the topic at hand makes it more interesting to read. No complaints about how it was written or formatted, well done. I did have a question though, about the enzymes being able to survive in space and whatnot, do you believe that since the enzymes are able to survive proves that there is likely already life outside of Earth, or do you think humans would have to have a role in creating new life through science?

    • Cameron H says:

      Extremophiles opening up the possibility of life is actually something I was very interested in when I was writing this blog post. I do believe that this may not prove the existence of life but definitely makes it an even greater possibility. The enzymes produced by the extremophiles mean that many planets that would have been inhospitable now may hold life. I do not however think that humans will have a role in creating life on other planets other than terraforming or bio-pods. Thank you for commenting and sorry this reply took so long.

  7. Laela S. says:

    I like this text,its informative ,not an opinion piece which is actually great because then it doesn’t cause controversy and I like the fact that you did something almost no one heard but would still be interesting to read.I also like the fact that its kind of like a mystery you don’t really know if years from now that having these organisms could be good or bad.Thanks for making me discover something I never knew existed before and having more knowledge on it.My question to you is if this organism were to increase beyond existence and it did end up being something bad ,is there a way to get rid of it?

    • Cameron H says:

      I just want to be clear because I have received many comments similar to this one that this is not an organism. Extremophiles are more of a general categorization of all organisms. An extremophile is any living thing that lives in a place previously deemed inhospitable, whether because of dryness, radioactivity, heat, cold, lack of oxygen or great acidity/base. If any one of these organisms became so over populated they became a risk to humans I believe the organism could be dealt with just as easy as any other organism to get control. This would be because they are still normal organisms inside except being able to create enzymes that block acidity or repair radiation damage. Although this is always a worry, I still don’t believe this would happen because the lack of land that has the extreme conditions they live in. Thank you for commenting either way and I look forward to hearing more questions.

  8. Mohamed M. says:

    In my opinion, your blog post is very well written and I really liked how you wrote the paragraph about how I can help and you even took the time to find a volunteering place and add a link. I really don’t have a science story to tell you, but your topic was really interesting and I really enjoyed reading the post.

  9. Alex E. says:

    Fascinating topic to choose Cameron, it was a very unique choice! The blog post is written very intelligently, and you provided a bunch of facts and interactive material. Your formatting looks nice as well. As a result, I don’t really have much criticism to say. Good job!
    As for recent science stories I’ve read, this (http://rt.com/news/248473-transplant-head-body-canavero/) one blows my mind. A Russian computer scientist named Valery Spiridonov has a rare genetic muscle-wasting disorder, and he has volunteered to undergo the first head-to-body transplant in 2017.
    I’m not sure what the outcome of the surgery will be, but if it is successful, it’ll be one of the biggest medical achievements in recent years. I remember reading a sci-fi book about a head transplant, and soon this could no longer be merely fiction!

    • Cameron H says:

      I first want to say wow. This was just amazing to hear. After listening to that little Soundcloud recording on the other side of the link, I really believe in Dr. Canavero, I do however think he is too confident in this and if the surgery fails that he will be shunned. I still would like to follow this story so if there are any breakthroughs or updates please comment again and let me know.

  10. Thomas P. says:

    I really enjoyed this article. Reading this has got me curious as to how scientists go about discovering these creatures. Do they have certain methods for finding them, or do they just come across them while exploring in an extreme area?

    • Cameron H says:

      From what I can tell it is mostly guess and check work. Some hunches are greater than others but most are just hunches. A large amount are stumbled upon during other studies. I really have not seen much evidence leaning towards any of these ways though. I’m sorry if this wasn’t much help but for some reason most papers don’t talk about why they searched where they did. Once again sorry but if you have anymore questions feel free to ask. Thank you.

  11. Emily R says:

    Great article Cameron, it was really well weritten! Extremophiles are very interesting and I never even knew anything about them before reading your post! Can extremophiles be harmful to humans or animals?

    • Cameron H says:

      The large ones definitely can be and sometimes even have full ecosystems developed with other extremophiles. You should look at jwilson’s comment to see an example of this.

  12. Jeremy W. says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed you post! I’ve knew a little about extremophiles prior to reading your post but this certainly gave a lot of new information about extremophiles! I found particularly interesting that the tartigrades were being used for cancer research. I’d love to see more extremophiles in your post to invite your readers to explore the topic, perhaps just a few examples near the end. I found this site about antarctic extremophiles that I found especially cool! http://mentalfloss.com/article/54493/11-polar-sea-extremophiles

    • Cameron H says:

      Thank you for the suggestion and after reading over the story in the link provided I would love it if you would allow me to include it in the end of my article. I would of course give you proper satisfaction. Thank you for your comment and my nightmares thank you for the Proboscis and Giant Scale worms.

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