Even when it's cold enough to freeze the mercury in your thermometer, life goes on - the frigid wastes of the solar system never looked so habitable
In the icy expanse of the Arctic Ocean, a strange beast glides through the endless tunnels that honeycomb the floating sea ice. Propelled by a whip-like tail, it thrives at temperatures that would kill a human in minutes.
As winter approaches, the mercury drops and the sea ice hardens. Those tunnels of water close up and almost disappear. Temperatures plummet below -20 °C. But the whip-tailed beast, a bacterium called Colwellia 34H, remains alive and well, sealed in the ice in bubbles of briny liquid not much larger than its own single-celled body.
Colwellia used to be seen as a freak of nature, the hardiest of all cold-loving bugs. But biologists are starting to realise that it is not at all unusual. Wherever they look - in permafrost, icebergs, glaciers or ice caps - they find die-hard life forms whose appetite for enduring the cold simply astonishes.
Title: Motility of Colwellia psychrerythraea Strain 34H at Subzero Temperatures
Authors: Karen Junge, Hajo Eicken, Jody W. Deming
We examined the Arctic bacterium Colwellia psychrerythraea strain 34H for motility at temperatures from 1 to 15°C by using transmitted-light microscopy in a temperature-controlled laboratory. The results, showing motility to 10°C, indicate much lower temperatures to be permissive of motility than previously reported (5°C), with implications for microbial activity in frozen environments.
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