Thermophiles: Definition, Examples & Application

Thermophiles: Definition, Examples & Application
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  • 0:04 What's a Thermophile?
  • 0:30 Thermophile Examples
  • 1:35 Applications
  • 2:49 Life on Other Planets
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

This lesson will examine the relationship found between an organism and heat or, the life of a thermophile. It will give examples and show why scientists are so interested in this type of organism.

What Is a Thermophile?

They like it hot and steamy. No, this isn't the first line in a bad romance novel, but it is a story of love. It's a story about thermophiles, or organisms that love the heat. In fact, their name even means 'heat lover.' They thrive in temperatures ranging from 140 degrees F to 226 degrees F (that's 60 - 108 degrees C).

Thermophile Examples

Thermophiles are a type of extremophile, or organism that loves extremes. Most thermophiles belong to the Archaea Domain, which was not even discovered until the 1970s. Other members of the Archaea Domain include other extremophiles like halophiles, which love salt, and acidophiles, which love acid. You may have noticed by now that the suffix phile means 'love.'

Because thermophiles like hot temperatures, they are found in some of the most hostile environments on Earth. For example, they can survive in hot springs or even in hydrothermal vents found under the ocean. Thermophiles survive on gases, minerals, and metals that can be found in these extreme environments.

Scientists have found a thermophile, Methanopyrus kandleri, that can survive in temperatures in excess of 250 degrees F. It currently holds the record for hottest thermophile, although scientists have only begun to scratch the surface in thermophile diversity, so who knows what the record holder will be in a few years.

Applications

Enzymes are found in living organisms, and they help reactions take place in our bodies. Most enzymes cannot function at high temperatures - that's why you die if you get too hot! But the enzymes found in thermophiles can. As a result, scientists are interested in studying these enzymes for various uses. For example, washing detergents need to function at high temperatures, and scientists are investigating the use of thermophile enzymes in detergents. So the next time your ketchup-stained shirt comes out of the washer clean, thank a thermophile.

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