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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Life in the hot seat
Microbe, Diversa
This microbe can live in boiling water
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Scientists have completed reading the genetic sequence of the potentially useful heat-loving microbe Pyrolobus fumarii.

Hidden in its genetic data could be clues to new heat-resistant molecules that would benefit agriculture, chemical engineering and the pharmaceutical industry.

The genome was sequenced as a result of a joint effort between the Diversa and Celera corporations. It took less than a year.

The microbe thrives in boiling water and already it appears that many of the genes in P. fumarii are not found in any other organism.

Hardy microbe

Pyrolobus fumarii which means "fire lobe of the chimney" was first identified by Professor Karl Stetter of the University of Regensburg, Germany.

It was discovered in the wall of a black smoker, a deep-sea hydrothermal vent in the mid-Atlantic, formed when superheated water bearing sulphur-rich minerals billows from the Earth's crust.

The microbe has adapted to one of the harshest environments on Earth. It likes temperatures between 90 C and 113 C, the highest temperature recorded for the habitat of any organism so far.

In fact, P. fumarii grows optimally at 106 C, or six degrees above the boiling point of water. Consequently, any gene products recovered from this genome are expected to be extremely thermostable, or heat-tolerant.

New to science

Applications for such highly thermostable products include many animal-feed additives, agricultural product processing enzymes, and industrial and consumer product enzymes.

Technically, P. fumarii, is an obligate chemolithoautotroph. It is able to survive on inorganic chemicals, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. Accordingly, the genome of this organism is expected to contain many novel metabolic enzymes of commercial interest.

After less than a year of sequencing, the genome of P. fumarii was found to be 1.85 million base pairs in length, and to contain approximately 2,000 genes.

At first glance, it appears to contain an unusually high number of genes with no obvious similarity to previously described genes from eubacteria and archaea, two of the major classifications of life.

See also:

02 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Cholera's genetic secrets revealed
28 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
The microbes that 'rule the world'
26 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Hot-spring bug goes into space
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