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Scientists Research How Life Adapts to Deep-water Conditions

The genome of a marine bacterium living 2,500 meters below the ocean's surface is providing clues to how life adapts in extreme environments.  The bacterium Nautilia profundicola is found in a fleece-like lining on the backs of tubeworms at hydrothermal vents, and in bacterial mats on the surfaces of the vents' chimney structures.  Microorganisms that thrive at hydrothermal vents must adapt to fluctuations in temperature and oxygen levels, ranging from the hot, sulfide- and heavy metal-laden plume at the vents' outlets to cold seawater in the surrounding region. 

Scientists at the University of Delaware, the University of California, the University of Louisville, the University of Waikato, New Zealand, and the J. Craig Venter Institute are combining genome analysis with physiological and ecological observations to understand the importance of the reverse gyrase gene (rgy) in N. profundicola. Previous studies found this gene only in microorganisms growing in temperatures greater than 80 degrees Celsius, but N. profundicola thrives best at much lower temperatures.  The presence of rgy in N. profundicola therefore suggests that this gene might play a role in the bacterium's ability to survive rapid and frequent temperature fluctuations in its environment.  The researchers uncovered further adaptations to the vent environment in N. profundicola, including genes necessary for growth and for sensing environmental conditions. Knowledge of how microbes adapt to extreme environments may aid our understanding of how life evolved.


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