Scientists Say: Extremophile | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Extremophile

This is an organism that can live in an extreme environment, such as high heat or acidity
Jun 12, 2017 — 6:50 am EST
Grand prismatic spring

The colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park are partially due to the extremophiles living in the hot water. 

Jim Peaco, National Park Service/Wikimedia Commons

Extremophile (noun, “Ex-STREEM-a-file”)

This is an organism that can live in extreme conditions most other forms of life can’t tolerate. The word “extremophile” combines the Latin word for “extreme” (extremus) and the Greek word meaning “to love” (philia).

Extemophiles can be found inhabiting all sorts of inhospitable real estate. This includes environments that are very hot, very cold, very dry or very acidic. For example, most animals can’t handle the heat and pressure near undersea hydrothermal vents. This is where hot water emerges into the ocean from deep inside the Earth. But giant tubeworms, shrimp and crabs can tolerate the conditions there and happily call these vents home.

In a sentence

One species of extremophile is able to live inside giant cave crystals, where they’ve been hanging out for thousands of years. 

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Power Words

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acidic     An adjective for materials that contain acid. These materials often are capable of eating away at some minerals such as carbonate, or preventing their formation in the first place.

crystal     (adj. crystalline) A solid consisting of a symmetrical, ordered, three-dimensional arrangement of atoms or molecules. It’s the organized structure taken by most minerals. Apatite, for example, forms six-sided crystals. The mineral crystals that make up rock are usually too small to be seen with the unaided eye.

environment     The sum of all of the things that exist around some organism or the process and the condition those things create. Environment may refer to the weather and ecosystem in which some animal lives, or, perhaps, the temperature and humidity (or even the placement of components in some electronics system or product).

extremophile     A microorganism that lives in conditions of extreme temperature, acidity, alkalinity or concentrations of chemicals.

hydrothermal vent     An opening at the bottom of the ocean or a lake where hot water emerges from deep inside Earth. The water is rich in minerals and chemicals that can nourish ecosystems of worms, clams, microbes and other organisms.

organism     Any living thing, from elephants and plants to bacteria and other types of single-celled life.

pressure     Force applied uniformly over a surface, measured as force per unit of area.

NGSS: 

  • MS-LS1-5
  • HS-LS1-3
  • HS-LS2-8