Some Like it Hot: 4 microbes that thrive in extreme conditions

Thermus aquaticus

Where it lives: In near-boiling water, from hot springs to hot water heaters.

How it does it: T. aquaticus has adjusted the composition of its cell wall so it doesn’t melt at high temperatures. It also contains proteins and enzymes that function best in the heat.

Notable achievement: The key enzyme used in some types of genetic testing-Taq polymerase-comes from this bug.

• Ferroplasma acidiphilum
Where it lives: In the highly acidic drainage pools of abandoned mines.

How it does it: By constantly pumping protons out of its extracellular space to keep its internal pH levels close to neutral.

Notable achievement: F. acidiphilum uses the iron in pyrite (fool’s gold) as an energy source and produces sulfuric acid as a waste product.

• Deinococcus radiodurans
Where it lives: About anywhere-deserts, acid lakes, frozen tundras and even sites of extreme radiation.

How it does it: D. radiodurans has an extraordinary ability to quickly fix its DNA. During lean times it hunkers down and waits for things to get better, and then when the time comes it quickly fixes its DNA and reproduces itself.

Notable achievement: Researchers are exploring whether its DNA reassembly mechanisms can be used to piece together fragments of DNA recovered at crime scenes.
• Pseudomonas putida
Where it lives: In soils contaminated with solvents like tolulene and naphthalene. It also munches on polystyrene foam, a substance that was previously believed to be non-biodegradable.

How it does it: P. putida‘s diverse metabolism allows it to be a rather indiscriminate eater. In a pinch, it is able to generate energy by breaking down nasty organic pollutants, detoxifying them in the process.

Notable achievement: The first organism to be patented, this bug is a potent bioremediator, used to clean up toxic soils.