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 were responsible for the oxygenation of our atmosphere. They were the first photosynthesizers, converting light energy into oxygen more than 2.4 billion years ago. Without Bacteria, in particular Cyanobacteria, humans would not be here.
While some Bacteria perform photosynthesis, others depend on chemical energy that is released when compounds like hydrogen or sulfur react with oxygen. This energy is then used to convert carbon dioxide into biomass (chemosynthesis). For example, Thermus sp. may also 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 the most extreme of all extremophiles.
Microscopic plants and animals live in the extreme environments of Yellowstone's hydrothermal features.
Viruses, a logical part of thermophilic ecosystems, have been found in some pools in Yellowstone.
Thermophilic communities are very diverse, depending on the microbes living there, the pH, and the water temperature.
Thermophiles in Time and Space
Yellowstone's hydrothermal features and thermophilic communities are studied by scientists searching for evidence of life on other planets.
Last updated: October 15, 2020