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, 202, 1-10; discussion 11-8

Hyperthermophiles in the History of Life

  • PMID: 9243007

Hyperthermophiles in the History of Life

K O Stetter. Ciba Found Symp.


Prokaryotes requiring extremely high growth temperatures (optimum 80-110 degrees C) have recently been isolated from water-containing terrestrial, subterranean and submarine high temperature environments. These hyperthermophiles consist of primary producers and consumers of organic matter, forming unique high temperature ecosystems. Surprisingly, within the 16S rRNA-based phylogenetic tree, hyperthermophiles occupy all the shortest and deepest branches closest to the root. Therefore, they appear to be the most primitive extant organisms. Most of them (the primary producers) are able to grow chemolithoautotrophically, using CO2 as sole carbon source and inorganic energy sources, suggesting a hyperthermophilic autotrophic common ancestor. They gain energy from various kinds of respiration. Molecular hydrogen and reduced sulfur compounds serve as electron donors while CO2, oxidized sulfur compounds, NO3- and O2 (only rarely) serve as electron acceptors. Growth demands of hyperthermophiles fit the scenario of a hot volcanism-dominated primitive Earth. Similar anaerobic chemolithoautotrophic hyperthermophiles, completely independent of a sun, could even exist on other planets provided that active volcanism and liquid water were present.

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