Larry Klaes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fri, 23 Jul 1999 19:01:23 -0400
Wednesday, July 21, 1999 Published at 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Toughest bug reveals
Pyrococcus abyssi was found living in a deep-sea vent
By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David
One of the hardiest microbes on Earth, Pyrococcus
abyssi, has just had its entire genetic blueprint
P. abyssi was found in samples taken during a deep-sea
expedition to a hydrothermal vent system. The genes
which allow them to survive the extreme conditions could
be of great use to bio-industry.
The vents are some of the most inhospitable places on
Earth. There is no sunlight, the temperature is over 100
degrees Centigrade and the pressure is hundreds of
times more intense than on the Earth's surface.
Vents are where
super-heated water squirts
out of the sea floor. The
geyser, full of chemicals and
minerals, is called a "black
Towers and funnels grow
around the vent and are
home to some of the
strangest life forms on Earth
- blind shrimps, huge
tubeworms and many kinds
Pyrococcus abyssi was
isolated from inside a vent
3,500 metres (11,500 feet) below the ocean surface in
the southwest Pacific.
It likes conditions that the vast majority of other
organisms would find impossible to live in. It thrives best
at temperatures of about 103 degrees Centigrade and
under pressures of about 200 atmospheres.
An international team of scientists has just completed a
map of the 1.7 million segments of its DNA, as part of an
international effort to determine the genetic blueprints of
organisms which live in unusual places.
Scientists are very interested in such "extremophiles".
Not only do they reveal that life can adapt to
environments that were thought to be impossible but
also because the molecular basis of that adaptation
could provide industrial spin-offs.
For example, in order to survive microbes like
Pyrococcus abyssi have to have a sophisticated and
robust DNA repair mechanism based on heat-stable
At such high temperatures the microbe's DNA
undergoes continual damage and in order to survive that
DNA must be repaired. The molecules that do this must
be able to carry out their job without themselves being
destroyed by the high temperature and pressure.
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