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Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Going Deep for an Unearthly Microbe
25 February 2000 5:00 pm
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Even though the late Carl Sagan had his eyes on deep space, his soon-to-be namesake comes from a different deep place: beneath the sea floor. Microbiologist John Baross and his team at the University of Washington, Seattle, have recovered a cunning new microbe from the scalding fluid ejected during a submarine eruption. The bug, which Baross hopes to name Saganella, appears to be as multitalented as the famous astronomer, author, and TV star.
Typical microbes live within a relatively narrow temperature range. Not the versatile Saganella, which thrives in extreme heat (50° to 90°C) and can survive relatively frigid room temperature as well, Baross reported on 19 February at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes ScienceNOW. "The fact that proteins can operate across that range of temperatures is amazing," says Peter Fields of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who studies protein function in Antarctic fish. He believes that Saganella or another one of the rare subsurface organisms Baross has found "might be a record breaker."
The hunt for these "extremophiles"--microbes that live in extreme environments without the light, oxygen, or other ingredients supposedly essential for life--is difficult. For the past several years, Baross and his team have chased down new sea-floor eruptions, trying to reach the cauldrons in time to collect samples from the spewing fluids. Saganella, recovered from a site off the Pacific Northwest coast, was identified when graduate student Melanie Summit grew organisms from this sample under various temperature regimes in the lab. Genetic analyses indicate that Saganella is not a bacterium but an unusual member of an ancient microbial group called the archaea. It has a metabolism unlike any Baross has seen before; he is not sure what its energy source is in the wild.
Saganella's existence has heartened those pursuing Sagan's goal of finding life in outer space. The microbe is "absolutely remarkable" and is a potential model for extraterrestrial life, says Kenneth Nealson, an astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "If an organism can do this on Earth," he adds, "there's no telling what it could be doing some place else."