Towards the ecology of hyperthermophiles: biotopes, new isolation strategies and novel metabolic properties


*Corresponding author. Tel.: +49 (941) 943-3182; Fax: +49 (941) 943-2403, E-mail address:


Ecological studies have shown that water-containing terrestrial, subterranean and submarine high-temperature environments harbor a great diversity of hyperthermophilic prokaryotes, growing fastest at temperatures of 80°C or above. The investigations included cultivation, isolation and detailed analysis of these hyperthermophiles as well as in situ 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis and in situ hybridization studies. For a safe and fast isolation of novel hyperthermophiles from mixed cultures, a new, plating-independent isolation technique was developed, based on the use of a laser microscope (‘optical tweezers’). This method, combined with 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis and whole-cell hybridization using fluorescently labelled oligonucleotide probes, even allows the recovery of pure cultures of phylogenetically predicted organisms harboring novel 16S rRNA gene sequences. In their natural habitats, hyperthermophiles form complex food webs, consisting of primary producers and consumers of organic material. Their metabolic potential includes various types of aerobic and anaerobic respiration and different modes of fermentation. In hydrothermal and geothermal environments, hyperthermophiles have important ecological functions in biogeochemical processes. Members of the Sulfolobales are able to mobilize heavy metals from sulfidic ores like pyrite or chalcopyrite. Biomineralization processes of hyperthermophiles include the formation of magnetite from iron or the precipitation of arsenate as realgar, a reaction performed by a novel hyperthermophile that was isolated from Pisciarelli Solfatara, Naples, Italy.