The Role of Thermal Bacteria
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Discoveries within the last several decades are changing old theories about how life on earth began. During the last several years, scientists have been discovering life in places many theories stated life could not exist. These findings are now revolutionizing many existing theories as well as creating new ones.
All forms of life are believed to have originated from two types of prokaryotes: archaebacteria and eubacteria. According to many scientists, these two types of prokaryotes evolved separately from a common ancestor billions of years ago. The three types of archaebacteria live in extreme places where no free oxygen is available. One type of archaebacteria thrives in hot, acidic waters of sulfur springs and in the deep cracks on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
The ability of archaebacteria to exist without oxygen is important to scientific theories on the origin of life given that the atmosphere of early earth contained little free oxygen. Recent discoveries of underground colonies of microbes that thrive in temperatures of 137°F as well as others that feed off of volcanic rock 1,200 feet beneath the ocean floor have scientists now searching for links between these organisms and the beginning of life on earth. The implications of recent findings point to a new theory that life on earth may have began under the severe conditions of sulfurous, searing heat.
The evidence that archaebacteria may have been the first forms of life are grounded in new evidence that archaebacteria have evolved less than other kingdoms of organisms associated with life on early earth. This added with the knowledge that early earth was subject to submarine volcanic eruptions that created the heat and harsh chemicals archaebacteria feed upon has strengthened these new areas of scientific investigations.
Several scientists have explored the idea that the ecosystems found in hot springs and around volcanoes on the ocean floor resemble the conditions of early earth. One of these scientists was Sidney W. Fox who showed through repeated experiments that amino acids heated and treated with aspartic and glutamic acids turned into microspheres that resembled the primitive cells found in microfossils that date back to about 3.5 billion years. Fox made these discoveries during the time he was the director of the Oceanographic Institute at Florida State University.
Another scientist, Baross collected samples from under the Juan de Fuca ridge under the Pacific Ocean in 1988. From these samples, Baross was able to isolate archaebacteria. From his experiments, Baross became one of the first scientists to suggest that all life evolved from these heat-loving microorganisms that thrive in deep-sea hydrothermal vents.