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Imagine That! - Strain 121

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! - Strain 121

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

Next time you walk on the sea floor, watch out for "black smoker" vents. They spew out water as hot as five hundred seventy-two degrees!

Imagine That!

What's surprising about these vents is not the temperatures they reach, which are a result of heat that leaks from the earth's core, but the organism scientists found inside them...alive! It's a tiny, single-celled hypothermophilic, or extreme heat-liking, microbe.

Lovley: "What's exciting about it is that it can grow at a temperature much higher than life was thought to exist...121 degrees Celsius."

Two hundred fifty degrees Fahrenheit!!!

Lovley: "That's the temperature that's been used for at least 100 years to sterilize instruments or microbiological media, in other words, to eliminate all life. This is the temperature that you heat things up to, to try to kill everything, and what we found is Strain 121 grows at that temperature!"

That's microbiologist Derek Lovley at UMass. He says that Strain 121 is unique, along with other hypothermophilic organisms, in that it uses iron for its energy the way that humans use oxygen.

Scientists believe that "iron respirating" organisms like Strain 121 were the first forms of life on Earth. Studying these little guys also gives us clues as to what types of life might exist on the very sweltering, iron-plentiful planets like Mars. Now that's hot stuff. I'm Eric Phillips.

Imagine that covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at nsf. gov.

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