The Molecular Basis for Life in Extreme Environments

Annu Rev Biophys. 2021 May 6:50:343-372. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-100120-072804. Epub 2021 Feb 26.


Sampling and genomic efforts over the past decade have revealed an enormous quantity and diversity of life in Earth's extreme environments. This new knowledge of life on Earth poses the challenge of understandingits molecular basis in such inhospitable conditions, given that such conditions lead to loss of structure and of function in biomolecules from mesophiles. In this review, we discuss the physicochemical properties of extreme environments. We present the state of recent progress in extreme environmental genomics. We then present an overview of our current understanding of the biomolecular adaptation to extreme conditions. As our current and future understanding of biomolecular structure-function relationships in extremophiles requires methodologies adapted to extremes of pressure, temperature, and chemical composition, advances in instrumentation for probing biophysical properties under extreme conditions are presented. Finally, we briefly discuss possible future directions in extreme biophysics.

Keywords: adaptation; energetics; extreme environments; extremophiles; instrumentation; proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysics
  • Extreme Environments*
  • Extremophiles
  • Humans
  • Temperature