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No. 112: Jul-Aug 1997

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Archea: Tough And Different

Today's textbooks recognize only two main divisions of life: the prokaryotes (cells without nuclei) and eukaryotes (cells with nuclei). Humans and most of the life forms we are familiar with belong to the latter group. (Curiously, human red blood cells lack nuclei!) However, a third basic type of life has been found prospering in some extreme environments. These are the Archea, typified by the methane-producing microbes discovered clustered around hot deepsea vents, where temperatures may exceed 400C. It is not their rugged constitutions that place these miniscule forms of life in a new category; it is their genomes. They are radically different from those found in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. The genome of one species of Archea collected from a hot vent 3 kilometers deep in the Pacific has been sequenced. Biologists were taken aback. Methanococcus jannaschii, as it has been dubbed, possesses 1738 genes, of which 56% are entirely new to science. Many of these genes do not look anything like those found in the prokaryotes and eukaryotes. In a word, they seem "alien."

(Morell, Virginia; "Life's Last Domain," Science, 273:1043, 1996.)

How alien? Well, they are so tough that they could have arrived from Mars on a meteorite. Millions of years of residence in a meteorite edging its way toward a rendezvous with earth mean nothing to the Archea. They have even been cultured from the interior of a salt crystal 200 million years old.

(Fanale, Fraser; "Martian Substances," Science, 275:321, 1997.)


From Science Frontiers #112, JUL-AUG 1997. 1997-2000 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