As science explores volcanos, deep sea vents, geyser pools, glacial areas, and mountain tops at very high elevations one of the surprising things that has been discovered is that bacteria grow in unbelievable conditions on the earth. These bacteria are designed to withstand extreme conditions, and they are called extremophiles. There are seven categories that have been identified. They are:

Thermophiles--organisms that thrive in temperatures from 120° to 160°F found in hot springs and deep sea vents.

Hyperthermophiles--organisms that grow in temperatures from 176° to 235°F and will not grow in conditions lower than 176°F.

Psychrophiles--organisms that cannot survive temperatures warmer than 54°F and grow best at 39°F.

Acidophiles--organisms that require a highly acidic place to grow (ph values less than 2). Volcanic pools and hot sea vents are the most common places where these organisms are found.

Alkalophiles--bacteria requiring alkaline conditions to grow (ph values greater than 10), usually desert lakes.

Halophiles--organisms requiring salt contents of 20-30%, usually found in salt mines.

Barophiles--organisms requiring high pressures to grow--hundreds of times greater than the earth's surface. In the Marianna Trench some of these forms flourish at pressures 700 times the sea level air pressure.

What is interesting about these extremophiles is that they all serve major roles in the overall design of life on earth. In recent years science has found that there is a whole ecosystem functioning around vents in the very deep ocean. The ecosystem has sixteen foot long worms, shrimp, large clams, and a variety of fish. The extremophile bacteria are the basis of the food chain and their presence allows life to flourish and interact with other forms of life around the deep sea vents.

Bacteria that can handle high acidity, high alkalinity, and high salinity, serve to take environments hostile to normal forms of life and make them less hostile. Bacteria can reduce the conditions so they are less extreme. Old volcanos can eventually become lakes teeming with fish and other aquatic forms of life. Salty lakes can be reduced to brackish and eventually fresh water if more salt is not added. These extremophiles are agents designed to make more and more areas of the earth fit for life.

As man looks at pollution problems and at the possibility of life elsewhere in the solar system, it is obvious that these complex life forms that function in terrible conditions may have much to teach us and many ways to help us in meeting the problems mankind faces in the twenty-first century.

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