ATHENS, Ga. -- Poet Robert Frost famously wrote that "some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice." Though scientists can make educated guesses at the final convulsions of the planet, they're far more comfortable searching for its origins. New evidence, discovered in the past decade, now indicates that life on Earth may have originated close to the fire down below.
Indeed, hyperthermophiles -- the extreme heat-loving microorganisms that flourish at and above the boiling point of water -- could be a key to unlocking both evolution and the origin of life itself.
"It appears from studies of these organisms that life did begin in shallow pools with highly elevated temperatures, but once life appeared, perhaps 90 to 99 percent was destroyed again, and there was a constant disappearing and evolving," said Dr. Juergen Wiegel, a microbiologist at the University of Georgia. "A lot of different evolutionary roots probably came from the same pools."
The arguments concerning thermophiles by Wiegel and numerous other scientists from around the globe were just published in Thermophiles: The Keys to Molecular Evolution and the Origin of Life -- by Taylor & Francis publishers. The book, edited by Wiegel and UGA biochemist Dr. Michael W. W. Adams, publishes information first presented at a workshop on the University of Georgia campus in 1996.
The event at UGA was unusual because international experts in a number of different fields came together to discuss the implications of thermophile research. Researchers in biology, genetics, biogeochemistry, oceanography, systematics and evolution joined for the meeting.
"The conference was very significant for the thermophile field, which is
so rapidly developing," said Adams, whose research in the area has drawn
considerable international interest this decade. "There has been a major
expansion in the study of thermophiles in the past five years, though much more
Contact: Phil Williams
University of Georgia