Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 57, Issue 5, pp 869–877 | Cite as

Life in extreme environments: Approaches to study life-environment co-evolutionary strategies

  • Xiang XiaoEmail author
  • Yu Zhang
Review Special Topic: Frontiers of Geobiology


The term “extreme environments” describes the conditions that deviate from what mesophilic cells can tolerate. These conditions are “extreme” in the eye of mankind, but they may be suitable or even essential living conditions for most microorganisms. Hyperthermophilic microorganisms form a branch at the root of the phylogenetic tree, indicating that early life originated from extreme environments similar to that of modern deep-sea hydrothermal vents, which are characterized by high-temperature and oxygen-limiting conditions. During the inevitable cooling and gradual oxidation process on Earth, microorganisms developed similar mechanisms of adaptation. By studying modern extremophiles, we may be able to decode the mysterious history of their genomic evolution and to reconstruct early life. Because life itself is a process of energy uptake to maintain a dissipative structure that is not in thermodynamic equilibrium, the energy metabolism of microorganisms determines the pathway of evolution, the structure of an ecosystem, and the physiology of cells. “Following energy” is an essential approach to understand the boundaries of life and to search for life beyond Earth.


energy extremophile adaptation coevolution 


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Ocean EngineeringShanghai Jiao Tong UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Microbial MetabolismShanghai Jiao Tong UniversityShanghaiChina

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