Beasts Of Iceland: Thermus Bacteria - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Beasts Of Iceland: Thermus Bacteria

Beasts Of Iceland: Thermus Bacteria

Published July 6, 2018

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Icelanders are known for their love of sitting in hot water, but they’ve got nothing on the good ole’ Thermus bacteria. These microscopic heat junkies are the Hells Angels to the geothermal hot springs biker bar. They’re everywhere, man.

That’s hot

The Thermus bacteria was discovered in the 1960s in America’s Yellowstone National Park. This was a Red Wedding-level surprise for scientists, as it had always been believed that thermophilic bacteria—bacteria that exists in high temperatures—could not survive above 55°C. This assumption was extremely wrong, as not only can thermophilic bacteria thrive in the 50 to 80°C range that hot pools rest in, but they are also totally chill in places like the deep-sea hydrothermal vents, which reach upwards to 400 °C. As Saint Chandler Bing would say, “Could they BE more wrong?”

To be frank, the scientist’s assumption was also massively disrespectful to the thermophilic bacteria as it’s speculated that life itself was born with these bacteria in deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Seriously, we literally owe them our lives and scientists totally erased their identities. That is so not hot.  

But anyway…

These microscopic heat junkies are the Hells Angels to the geothermal hot springs biker bar.

Thermus bacteria thrive around 70°C in a slightly acidic to alkaline pH environment. They are chemoorganotrophic aerobic bacteria, which in layman’s terms means that their metabolism comes from breaking chemical compounds—not from sunlight. Specifically, they oxidise chemical bonds in organic compounds for their energy source, usually sugars, fats and proteins. The Icelandic iteration of Thermus bacteria mostly oxidise sucrose and maltose for growth, so basically, they only eat sugar. This is very Icelandic, as Icelanders are the highest consumers of Coca-Cola per capita worldwide.

The Thermus bacteria does not really affect humans at all but the scientists at the Grapevine speculate that perhaps in some sort of X-Men-esque situation, these pesky buggers have infiltrated the Icelandic DNA to make them love sitting in hot smelly water. While we currently don’t have the funds to pursue this research, our grant applications have just been submitted. Fingers crossed!

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