This lesson will go into some very interesting creatures known as thermophiles. We will discuss exotic sounding names such as Strain 121 and Thermus aquaticus and how they revolutionized our thought process and technology.
Heat Loving Bacteria
Everyone has a preference for where they’d like to live.
Some would love to live in the middle of a beautiful European city. Others would enjoy the American West. Some must live close to the beach, while others need to be by the mountains. What most people seem to prefer and agree on is that they would like to live somewhere relatively warm. This need for warmth, and sometimes even heat, is shared by bacteria as well, as we’ll discover in this lesson.
Just like people can be picky about where they live, bacteria can be picky as well. Some bacteria need to live in oxygen-rich environments, while others would simply be killed by oxygen.
Other types of microbes have to live in very salty conditions to survive or in very acidic conditions in order to thrive.There is one type of microbe that most people would relate to in some sense. These are called thermophiles. Thermophiles are microbes that live in extremely hot conditions. But, this isn’t Florida or Africa style hot.
This isn’t somewhere you’d go to retire. This is more like the level of Dante’s Inferno hot. Boil yourself alive type of hot.
It’s not the ideal place for your summer vacation – trust me. The temperature at which these microbes thrive is somewhere around 115-250 degrees Fahrenheit.
One example of a thermophile is known as Geogemma barossii, or Strain 121 more colloquially. Strain 121 sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, and it almost is. The reason for this is as follows.One of the most important methods by which hospitals can sterilize equipment, that is to say, kill off all microbes on objects, is by using an autoclave. Prior to the discovery of this microbe, it was thought that autoclaving something like surgical equipment at a temperature of 121 degrees Celsius for about 15 minutes would kill off all life forms.
Well, now we know better. Strain 121 can not only survive being autoclaved at these specific settings, but will actually double its population time in 24 hours under these conditions. So much for sterilization!The only saving grace is the fact that thermophiles usually depend on high temperature for their survival. Meaning, at our body’s normal temperature they would presumably die, and therefore would not be considered pathogenic to our species.
In any case, one of the most famous strains of thermophilic bacteria actually belongs to a species known as Thermus aquaticus, not Strain 121. This species of bacteria is super famous for being the original source of something known as Taq polymerase, a heat stable DNA polymerase, or enzyme that synthesizes DNA.
As you can tell, the name ‘Taq’ derives from ‘T. aq’ in Thermus aquaticus.This enzyme is used in a super important process known as PCR, or Polymerase Chain Reaction. This process has been instrumental in revolutionizing the way we conduct research in science, diagnose diseases and catch criminals.
Just think about it. One microscopic molecule found in a thermophile is what eventually led to this amazing revolution. Most people don’t think about it, but we owe a lot to living organisms that are billions of times smaller than us and anything but insignificant to us.
So, while we like to think of ourselves as really big, powerful and important, we fail to realize how things that we cannot even see are important to the entire world. These microscopic creatures include thermophiles, which are microbes that live in extremely hot conditions. One example of a thermophile is known as Geogemma barossii, or Strain 121 more colloquially. Strain 121 proved to us that our notion of how much it takes to kill a microbe or sterilize an object was simply wrong.Another one of the most famous strains of thermophilic bacteria is a species known as Thermus aquaticus. This species of bacteria is super famous for being the original source of something known as Taq polymerase: a heat-stable DNA polymerase, or enzyme that synthesizes DNA.
This enzyme led to a revolution in the world of research, medicine and criminal forensics.
Once you’ve finished going through the lesson, you may be able to:
- Remember the definition of thermophiles
- Emphasize the importance of the discovery of Strain 121 and Thermus aquaticus
- Interpret the role that Thermus aquatics plays in Polymerase Chain Reaction