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No. 80: Mar-Apr 1992

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Archaea: the living ancestors of all life forms

Life's place of origin may soon shift from that long-favored "warm little pond" to undersea hydrothermal vents.

"Important new discoveries on the properties of the early earth and atmosphere, including the frequency and size of bolide impacts, have strongly implicated submarine hydrothermal vent systems as the likely habitat for the earliest organisms and ecosystems, while stimulating considerable discussion, hypotheses and experiments related to chemical and biochemical evolution. Some of the key questions regarding the origins of life at submarine hydrothermal vent environments are focussed on the effects of temperature on synthesis and stability of organic compounds and the characteristics of the earliest organisms on earth. There is strong molecular and physiological evidence from present-day mircoorganisms that the earliest organisms on earth were capable of growing at high temperatures (about 90C) and under conditions found in volcanic environments. These 'Archaea', the living ancestors of all life forms, display a variety of strategies for growth and survival at high temperatures, including thermostable enzymes active at temperatures about 140C. Further molecular and biochemical characterization of the presently cultured thermophiles, as well as future work with the many species, particularly from subsurface crustal environments, not yet isolated in culture, may help resolve some of the important questions regarding the nature of the first organisms that evolved on earth."

(Baross, J.A.; "Hyperthermophilic Archaea: Implications for the Origin and Early Evolution of Life at Submarine Hydrothermal Vents," Eos, 72:59, 1991.)

From Science Frontiers #80, MAR-APR 1992. 1992-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987