Scientists Say: Extremophile

This is an organism that can live in an extreme environment, such as high heat or acidity


The colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park are partially due to the extremophiles living in the hot water. 

Jim Peaco, National Park Service/Wikimedia Commons

Extremophile (noun, “Ex-STREEM-a-file”)

This is an organism that can live in extreme conditions most other forms of life can’t tolerate. The word “extremophile” combines the Latin word for “extreme” (extremus) and the Greek word meaning “to love” (philia).

Extemophiles can be found inhabiting all sorts of inhospitable real estate. This includes environments that are very hot, very cold, very dry or very acidic. For example, most animals can’t handle the heat and pressure near undersea hydrothermal vents. This is where hot water emerges into the ocean from deep inside the Earth. But giant tubeworms, shrimp and crabs can tolerate the conditions there and happily call these vents home.

In a sentence

One species of extremophile is able to live inside giant cave crystals, where they’ve been hanging out for thousands of years. 

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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