Sunday, April 01, 2007

Extremophiles

An article entitled At Home in ‘Rocco’s Lab’ focuses on robust life forms that survive harsh conditions in an attempt to "the broad question of life in the universe." The following paragraph is from the linked site. My comment follows it.

"Astrobiologists, those cross disciplinary scientists dedicated to investigating the broad question of life in the universe, often study extremophiles, organisms that live at the edges of what life is known to tolerate. Bubbling acidic hotsprings, deep ocean blacksmokers, and deep dark caves are the sources of some researchers' extremophiles-those that love high temperatures, great pressures or live without light, but Dr. Mancinelli gets his microbes wherever there is lots of salt. Halophiles are salt lovers and thrive where salt abounds in concentrations that would kill most ordinary organisms. Halophiles are incredibly robust creatures."

While the study of extremophiles can be easily linked to many harsh environments existing in the universe, it is unlikely to yield much insight into the origin of life itself. To gain insight into origins, studies of the least complex genomes known to exist would be a better means of discovering what the real obstacles to abiogenesis are. Before cells can function they must be able to perform some basic tasks like storing the instructions needed to sustain life, providing for energy needs, having a capacity to generate needed biochemicals and a capacity to replicate and repair their genomes. Viewing the problem from this perspective makes sense. Unicellular organisms able to tolerate extreme conditions may already possess, not only basic cellular requirements but, some extras that go well beyond this and are not of an origins nature.

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