Initial Publication Date: March 24, 2006

Microbes of Extreme Environments: Topics of Interest

The Case Studies and Special Collections listed on this page represent the Extreme subset of Microbial Life's Topics of Interest collection. They contain resources - general (such as news articles, web sites, and reference pages), advanced (journal articles, academic reviews, and surveys), and educational (such as activities, assignments and reading lists) - that support teaching and learning about microbial life in extreme environments. They can be used in a variety of class activities, including lectures, demonstrations, discussions, and student projects.

Case Studies

Mono Lake: Mono Lake, located in California's Eastern Sierra, is both alkaline and hypersaline. In addition to its unusual array of alkaliphilic, halophilic, and anaerobic inhabitants, it has a remarkarble preservation success story.

Octopus Spring: Octopus Spring is a partially alkaline, low-carbonate, low-sulfur hot spring located in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. It is home to a variety of thermophiles, as well as a colorful array of microbial mat communities.

Rio Tinto: The Rio Tinto is an extremely acidic river in southern Spain. Enduring over 5000 years of mining activity, the river is full of heavy metals. Surprisingly, phylogenetic studies show the diversity of eukaryotes to be much greater than that of prokaryotes.

Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone National Park has over 10,000 unique geothermal features, which contain a wide and varied range of temperature, pH, and geochemical profiles. The sheer magnitude of this diversity lends it's self to scientific discovery.

Yellowstone Bioprospecting: Learn about the search for useful organic compounds in Yellowstone, including the discovery of Taq Polymerase - an enzyme commonly used in molecular biology.

Special Collections

Tardigrades are some of the most versatile animals on Earth. Resembling miniature bears, they are adapted to survive extreme changes in the environment - such as the absence of water and high temperatures - through a process known as cryptobiosis.

Microbial Mining and the use of microorganisms in the mining industry.

Winogradsky columns, an excellent activity, specifically for grades 5 - 12, used to demonstrate the growth of microorganisms.

Types of Extreme Environments

Explore microbial life in different types of extreme environments, including alkaline, acidic, extremely cold, extremely hot, hypersaline, under pressure, radiation, without water, and without oxygen. Investigate environments that have been altered by humans and learn about the exciting field of astrobiology!