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Are thermophilic microorganisms active in cold environments?

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-463
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Astrobiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


The mean air temperature of the Icelandic interior is below 10 degrees C. However, we have previously observed 16S rDNA sequences associated with thermophilic lineages in Icelandic basalts. Measurements of the temperatures of igneous rocks in Iceland showed that solar insolation of these low albedo substrates achieved a peak surface temperature of 44.5 degrees C. We isolated seven thermophilic Geobacillus species from basalt with optimal growth temperatures of similar to 65 degrees C. The minimum growth temperature of these organisms was similar to 36 degrees C, suggesting that they could be active in the rock environment. Basalt dissolution rates at 40 degrees C were increased in the presence of one of the isolates compared to abiotic controls, showing its potential to be involved in active biogeochemistry at environmental temperatures. These data raise the possibility of transient active thermophilic growth in macroclimatically cold rocky environments, implying that the biogeographical distribution of active thermophiles might be greater than previously understood. These data show that temperatures measured or predicted over large scales on a planet are not in themselves adequate to assess niches available to extremophiles at micron scales.

    Research areas

  • thermophiles, extremophiles, volcanic, Mars, geomicrobiology, BACTERIAL DIVERSITY, VOLCANIC GLASSES, ICELAND, BASALT, COMMUNITY, SURFACE, DESERT, SPORES, SOILS

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