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Few scientific findings astound the curious mind more than the concept of life being able to survive in extreme conditions. Scientists and researchers alike subscribe to the theory of adaptation. Charles Darwin is credited with establishing this idea in the 1830s. Darwin spent time in the Galapagos Islands studying turtles, birds, and other animal species. He sought to develop a connection between the species he observed and a change in the environment. This theory indicates that a class is able to survive despite habitat, climate, and environmental changes. Thus, the surviving species will adapt to its new environment through genetic and internal adaptations. For example, if a turtle whose stature was short and stocky, he is accustomed to eating food that is close to the ground. However, if that same turtle is forced to move to an area where the food is elevated, it’s limbs would elongate over time in order to survive. His observations shed light on how an organism can adapt to new environments in order to endure.
The earth is a treasure cove of endless gems full of shocking yet intriguing environmental extremes. From organisms inhabiting liquid bubbles to bacteria thriving amidst the earth’s upper atmosphere, the beauty of survival is astounding. Further study of these bizarre conditions could even lead to the possibility of life exceeding Earth!
Troglobites-Cave Dwellers of Another Kind
Imagine living in total darkness while having to acquire shelter and nourishment. The simple of act of finding food could prove to be quite the challenge. In addition, accurate navigation could be fatal when trying to ward off possible attackers. Despite the trials associated with living in utter seclusion, there are petite creatures that have mastered the art of survival in an extreme environment. Darwin would have had a field day analyzing the adaptation features of the Troglobites. These small, albino animals inhabit murky caves. They are distant relatives of spiders, beetles, and certain fish. Such animals, when placed in the same environment, have been found to develop troglobite characteristics. Since they are accustomed to living in darkness, Troglobites are blind. Some either have a skin-like casing covering their eyes or, none at all. This enables their other senses such as hearing and smell to become elevated. Their aesthetic is reminiscent of an x-rayed snail or lizard. Such photos depict troglobites with a yellowish hue and an almost iridescent body. Although extremely small, these animals were once thought to be mythical dragons in ancient Slovenia. The climate of this country in the early 1600s was filled with massive rainstorms that infiltrated established caves. This flooding resulted in the exposure of strange and never before seen animals. An artist portrayed these lightly colored “dragons” as long snakes with tiny limbs. Little did they know, these creatures were troglobites who had spent their entire lives living in the caves. Since they never received sun exposure, their flesh-colored skin was almost see-through. In addition, no accounts of their eyes have been recorded. No wonder the inhabitants thought they were mythological creatures coming to life! Today, scientists have discovered 7,700 troglobites. The number continues to rise as new caves with unique organisms are being explored daily. They can be likened to bottom dwellers as they feed off of plant rubble, animal remains, and other forms of debris. Their means of survival stuns scientists everywhere as they are unable to survive outside of their caves.
Crystals That Host Microbial Life
Chihuahua Mexico is home to the illustrious Cave of Crystals. This 980 feet chamber of beauty hosts some of the largest crystals ever discovered. In fact, photos can be seen of explorers walking on top of these elongated attractions. Their size fails in comparison to the wonder that is found deep within the crevices. Within the crystal are tiny pockets of liquid that produce intricate bubbles. Living inside these bubbles are small Microbes that are believed to be thousands of years old. Microbes or microscopic organisms could refer to bacteria, fungi, microscopic animals, or even viruses. The specific microbes found in the crystal caves were studied by NASA Astrobiology Director Penelope Boston. She quotes, “These organisms have been dormant but viable for geologically significant periods of time, and they can be released due to other geological processes.” The team working on this project gathered microbe specimens from the cave and collected data on their age, characteristics, and growth patterns. These organisms were dormant or “sleeping” within the bubbles for centuries. Although asleep, the microbes were still able to survive and nourish themselves. Microbiologist Brent Christner has a rather cynical theory behind their consistent existence. “Perhaps they are surviving by eating dead microbes that weren’t so lucky.” What’s extraordinary about this finding is the climate conditions found deep within the cave. Reportedly, it’s 122 degrees Fahrenheit which poses potential risks for human exploration. It’s almost like reversing the journey to outer space. Due to the high levels of humidity, the muggy atmosphere could result in collapsed lungs and excessive fluid buildup. Which is why entering requires special cooling gear for curious explorers. This discovery has enabled scientists to conclude that organisms truly can survive in extreme environments for centuries.
Trippy Microbes That Love Acid
Acid has proven to be a standalone enemy to the human body. Even consuming foods or beverages with too much acid can result in adverse consequences for the digestive system. Although humans would quickly deteriorate in extremely high acidic conditions, there are small forms of life that actually flourish when exposed to high levels of acid. Picrophiuls, microbe acidophiles can survive in hot springs, acidic mines, and quite possibly in Venus and Mars. What makes these conditions so extreme? Acidic Environments have high alkaline and pH levels which host ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and other powerful acids. These miniature organisms maintain their survival by keeping their cellular pH levels consistent. By utilizing passive and active regulation, their internal levels are managed. Their membrane is protected by a sugary casing which works to counteract the harsh conditions around them. What’s interesting is that some microbes flourish in acidic conditions consisting of zinc and arsenic. In fact, when Deinococcus radiodurans is exposed to a large amount of radiation, this bacteria thrives despite dehydration. If a human is exposed to that same amount of radiation, the results would be fatal. Since these microbes are able to withstand levels of high acidity, this opens the door to further exploration of life amongst other planets. This interesting discovery could lead to endless possibilities.
Follow the Tar: Organisms That Live in Asphalt
Pitch Lake located in Trinidad is filled with scorching molten asphalt. Appropriately coined, the word pitch was often referred to as tar during older times. A vast majority of the roads in the Eastern United States probably used asphalt from Pitch Lake. Despite high levels of toxicity, this body of strange consistency is home to one to ten million living microbes. These tiny organisms survive without oxygen within bubbles of water in a 131-degree atmosphere. Many of the organisms discovered were formed without a nucleus. Such included bacteria and archaea. This bacterial finding implies that perhaps life on other planets could survive. For example, Saturns moon Titan has oceans composed of methane. Since the microbes found within Pitch Lake are able to endure, researchers are finding more evidence that supports the theory of life on other planets. Huge supplies of water have been the primary component used to determine survival. Because of these recent findings, researchers are beginning to adjust this primal mentality. Although living amongst tar is possible, the smell alone would be a deterrent for most human beings.
Indestructible Water Bears
The physical appearance of Tardigrades can stir quite the chuckle in even the most serious of scientists. These eight-legged “water bears” have approximately 1,000 species and are categorized as animals. Ther official class is the Chordate phylum and their bodies are round, stout and filled with glorious rolls! Don’t be fooled by their adorable appearance. These animals are carnivorous and known cannibals. They are well rounded, flexible animals who can reside in many different climates. Typically, they can be found gracing lake bottoms or other murky places. Their easy-going character can survive in the severe cold (-328 degrees F) as well as scorching temperatures (300 degrees F). These virtually durable animals can even withstand radioactivity and the immense pressure of the sea. What makes the Tardigrade remarkable is its ability to survive in outer space. A recent study placed these animals into Earths orbit, with the help of some trust space equipment, and found that they could survive for more than a week. Indestructible indeed, these magnificent animals may outlive humanity should an event of mass destruction occur. Oxford researcher David Sloan stated, “To our surprise, we found that although nearby supernovas or large asteroid impacts would be catastrophic for people, tardigrades could be unaffected.”
Firmicutes Deep Within the Earth’s Crust
1.7 miles below the surface of the earth is a special form of bacteria that utilizes radioactive uranium as a means to convert water to energy. This climate is pressure filled and almost impossible for human survival. Scientists discovered a body of water in a South African gold mine. The microbes sampled turned out to be bacteria derived from Firmicutes. The researchers were stunned that despite being removed from their original inhabitant over 25 million years ago, the tiny bacteria are able to survive underground in the Earth’s crust. In order to flourish, Firmicutes rely on sulfate and hydrogen to receive energy. This photosynthesis like approach provides energy and an array of benefits for other microorganisms in their community. They typically live deep in the crevices of rocks that line the bottom of water bodies. NASA found this discovery to be enlightening as it supports the idea that colonization could occur on Mars. In fact, these findings directly emphasize the idea that water on Mars could be home to similar microorganisms. Since air and water pressure is extremely strong, scientists now have the technology to explore deep parts of the earth. This newfound discovery could lead researchers to discover new forms of living organisms in the near future.
Microorganisms That Love Warm Water
In order for the ecosystem to thrive, even the smallest of organisms must function properly. Deep within the caverns of the ocean are undersea vents. Here, living things must survive under crushing pressure, darkness, and extreme temperatures. Archaea microbes are specifically known for their methanogenesis process. This involves converting energy into methane. What makes this species of Archaea interesting is their ability to divide at extremely high temperatures. This ranges from 98 to 122 degrees Celcius. Archae contains no nucleus therefore, they’re referred to as single-celled. They are able to divide into multiple branches which makes this organism quite difficult to research. Much like their class variations, Archaea organisms come in unique shapes and sizes.
Dead Sea Prokaryotes
Prokaryotes have the unique ability to survive in extreme, saline environments. The Dead Sea, for example, is home to some of the worlds finest salts. In fact, this unique body of water contains 10 times the amount of salt that is found in the ocean. Not to mention, the pH levels amount to 6.0. It would appear this harsh environment would kill off any signs of life due to the high salt levels. However, Prokaryotes thoroughly enjoy the changing salinity of the Dead Sea. Specifically, the Halobacterium, Haloferax volcanii, and Haloarcula marismortui, amongst others are found in this climate. Their ultra defensive cell wall is a multi-faceted structure that allows the organism to thrive in hyper and hypo-osmotic environments. Their means of survival illustrates adaptation at its finest. While some enjoy the atmosphere of the Dead Sea, others thrive within the soil in desert-like conditions.
Bacteria Is Surrounding Us
It may seem a bit daunting knowing that certain species of bacteria are thriving in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. NASA researchers studied the air surrounding the Earth and found that living organisms made up 20% of the air. The conditions surrounding the Earth is filled with radiation from the sun and low amounts of oxygen. Not to mention, the harsh temperatures are severely cold. Although the purpose of these living organisms is currently unclear, researchers believe that the bacteria floating above the Earth reuse nutrients from the atmosphere in order to assist with cloud formation. Interestingly, the E.Coli finding could be a result of natural disasters circulating this harmful bacteria into the air. This finding could implement strategic environmental plans to prevent atmospheric pollution in the near future.
Black Fungus Embraces Radiation
Nuclear radiation is no match compared to Black Fungus. Chernobyl is home to a nuclear reactor that is filled with harmful radiation. Deep inside the walls of the reactor were black fungi eating away at the radioactive properties. This finding opens the door to endless possibilities of harvesting food in space. Fungi are able to live in such a harsh environment whereas other living organisms would eventually die out. Researcher Ekaterina Dadachova explains, “Just like pigment, chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow. The melanin helps fungi to make use of the ionizing radiation and makes them grow.” In addition, the radiation exposure even increased the growth of this fungus. It is remarkable that such a small organism can survive despite high levels of destructive radiation.
Intricate forms of life found in harsh conditions sparks endless possibility. For millions of years, microorganisms have been able to adapt to sever and extreme living conditions. This adaptability creates an arousing possibility of life on other planets. By taking the time to analyze these remarkable findings, who knows where the limits of life could abound.