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Press Release 09-016

Microbe Survives in Ocean's Deepest Realm, Thanks to Genetic Adaptations

Discovery provides clues to how life thrives in extreme environments

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Photo of a fleece of bacteria which contains heat-tolerant genes, lining the back of a Pompeii worm.

The Pompeii worm, the most heat-tolerant animal on Earth, lives in the deep ocean at super-heated hydrothermal vents. Covering this deep-sea worm's back is a fleece of bacteria. These microbes contain all the genes necessary for life in extreme environments.

Credit: University of Delaware


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Photo of tubeworms around a hydrothermal vent.

Tubeworms have no mouth, eyes or stomach. Their survival depends on a symbiotic relationship with the billions of bacteria that live inside them. These bacteria convert the chemicals that shoot out of the hydrothermal vents into food for the worm. This process is referred to as chemosynthesis.

Credit: University of Delaware


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Photo of a Pompeii worm in the lower right extending from its tube home.

In the lower right quadrant, a Pompeii worm, laden with bacteria, extends its dark-red feathery head and paler body from its tube home.

Credit: University of Delaware


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