Thermophilic Bacteria

Small ridges of rock filled with water
Almost every hot spring or geyser in Yellowstone hosts bacteria. The travertine terraces in Mammoth Hot Springs host thermophilic bacteria.

NPS

 

The word “bacteria” is often associated with disease, but only a few kinds of bacteria cause problems for humans. The other thousands of bacteria, although all simple organisms, play a complex role in Earth’s ecosystems. In fact, cyanobacteria made our oxygenrich atmosphere possible. They were the first photosynthesizers, converting light energy into oxygen more than 3 billion years ago. Without bacteria, we would not be here.

Most bacteria photosynthesize, providing oxygen which can then used by other thermophiles. Some use chemical sources of energy, like hydrogen or sulfur, to convert carbon dioxide into biomass other thermophiles can use (chemosynthesize). All of the cyanobacteria and green nonsulfur bacteria photosynthesize. Some fulfill both roles. For example, Thermus sp.—which are photosynthetic—also may be able to oxidize arsenic into a less toxic form.

Individual bacteria may be rod or sphere shaped, but they often join end to end to form long strands called filaments. These strands help bind thermophilic mats, forming a vast community or miniecosystem. Other groups of bacteria form layered structures resembling tiny towers, which can trap sand and other organic materials.

 
 
Archaea are found in place like the mudpots of Mud Volcano.

Thermophilic Archaea

Archaea are the most extreme of all extremophiles.

Green colors line a thermal runoff pool.

Thermophilic Eukarya

Microscopic plants and animals live in the extreme environments of Yellowstone's hydrothermal features.

Blue waters of Congress Pool are host to thermophilic viruses

Thermophilic Viruses

Viruses, a logical part of thermophilic ecosystems, have been found in some pools in Yellowstone.

Orange-colered bacterial column growing in geyser runoff water.

Thermophilic Communities

Thermophilic communities are very diverse, depending on the microbes living there, the pH, and the water temperature.

View of the

Thermophiles in Time & Space

Yellowstone's hydrothermal features and thermophilic communities are studied by scientists searching for evidence of life on other planets.

A dark blue hot spring with a white crested edge rimmed by orange water

Life in Extreme Heat

Hydrothermal features are habitats for microscopic organisms called thermophiles: "thermo" for heat, "phile" for lover.

Last updated: December 18, 2018

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