Scientists have figured out how microorganisms survive in boiling acid

(ORDO NEWS) — The sulfur springs of Yellowstone Park in North America look completely uninhabitable, but there are still microorganisms that survive in these hot, acidic waters. And now scientists have found out what helps them with this.

There are several geothermal springs in Yellowstone National Park , the water in which, in fact, is boiling acid.

A person in such conditions will not last long, and last year the world was shocked by the news of a careless tourist who fell into an acid source. He died from burns and his body dissolved in just over a night.

However, there are microorganisms that live and even thrive in caustic water. To understand how they do this, an international research team studied an acid-loving archaea species called Sulfolobus acidocaldarius.

This microorganism is a real champion of survival: archaea feels great at 80 degrees Celsius and very high acidity of the environment.

Moreover, by oxidizing sulfur, Sulfolobus acidocaldarius itself produces pure sulfuric acid, in which it exists.

Using cryoelectron microscopy, the researchers studied the mysterious cells and found in their composition a previously unknown protein that formed extremely strong hair-like structures.

The scientists isolated this protein from cells, froze it at very low temperatures, and visualized it using a transmission electron microscope.

This made it possible to create a detailed three-dimensional image of the protein with atomic resolution.

It turned out that the “hair” consists of separate segments, shaped like tadpoles, and the “tail” of one segment is inserted into the “head” of the next.

Thanks to these “hairs”, individual archaeal cells are combined into a strong biofilm: this allows them to maintain contact between cells, exchange genetic material and further acidify the environment in order to prevent possible competitors.

Scientists have figured out how microorganisms survive in boiling acid 2
Protein “threads” literally “sew” individual archaea together

The new data not only provides a better understanding of how tiny organisms survive in extreme environments, but could also help develop durable yet biodegradable nanomaterials.


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