No. 29: Sep-Oct 1993
Bacteria can survive and multiply in hot springs near and slightly above 100°C -- the boiling point of water at atmospheric pressure. Few scientists have contemplated the possibility of life forms prospering at temperatures well beyond 100°. Recently, however, the discovery of many new and frequently bizarre organisms clustered around deep-sea vents has forced a reexamination of high-temperature life. It seems that bacteria actually flourish in the 350°C water streams from the deep-sea vents. In the lab, these same bacteria multiply rapidly in water at 250°C kept liquid by pressures of 265 atmospheres of pressure. What a surprise! Quoting a concluding sentence from this article:
"This greatly increases the number of environments and conditions both on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe where life can exist."
(Baross, John A., and Deming, Jody W.; "Growth of 'Black Smoker' Bacteria at Temperatures of at Least 250°C," Nature, 303:423, 1983.)
Comment. Ignoring for the moment the extraterrestrial possibilities, the earth is riddled like a Swiss cheese with hot, fluid environments, which we may now consider potential abodes of life. Subterranean life represents a new biological frontier. Who knows what kinds of organisms have developed to feed upon the planet's heat? Could they have con-tributed to our supplies of petroleum and natural gas?