Microbial Life > Extreme Environments > Who Are The Extremophiles?

Diatoms from Mono Lake CA.
Diatoms can be found living in a wide variety of extreme environments, including ancient Antarctic Ice. Some believe they may even exist on Europa and in interstellar dust. The above diatom, Surirella, was collected from the alkaline and hypersaline Mono Lake. Details

What is an Extremophile?

An extremophile is an organism that thrives under "extreme" conditions. The term frequently refers to prokaryotes and is sometimes used interchangeably with Archaea. In this module, however, you will find that extremophiles come in all shapes and sizes, and that our understanding of the phylogenetic diversity of extreme habitats increases daily.

The term extremophile is relatively anthropocentric. We judge habitats based on what would be considered "extreme" for human existence. Many organisms, for example, consider oxygen to be poisonous. While oxygen is a necessity for life as we know it, some organisms flourish in anoxic environments. We call them extremophiles... but that is only one perspective. If they could think, what would they think of us? As you read through the list of terms below, consider how what we think of as normal may seem too extreme from the point of view of an extremophile.


Terms Used to Describe Extremophiles


Most terms used to describe extremophiles are generally straightforward. They are a combination of the suffix phile, meaning "lover of," and a prefix specific to their environment. For example, acidophiles are organisms that love (phile) acid (acido).


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