Life in Boiling Water

Part of the Springer Series in Microbiology book series (SSMIC)


To me, the most fascinating discovery that we made during our Yellowstone work was finding organisms that carry out their whole life histories in boiling water. I obtained the first inkling that living organisms might exist in boiling springs and geysers during our first summer of work, 1965. When we began our work in the summer of 1965, the intention was to study algal distribution along thermal gradients, but I was aware of Kempner’s paper (Kempner, 1963) stating that 73°C was the upper temperature for life, and I planned to do some experiments relating to the upper temperature limits. I thought of bacteria, and the first experiments were an attempt to get bacterial growth at high temperature by enriching spring water with organic nutrients and incubating at various temperatures from 70°C up. As incubators and source of inoculum, we selected a series of pools with temperatures of 91°C, 84°C, 76°C, and 70°C in the White Creek area of the Lower Geyser Basin, calling them Pool A, B, C, and D. But at the very beginning of the experiment, I noticed that in the outflow channel of Pool A there was pink gelatinous stringy material (see Figures 3.2 and 3.3) at temperatures in the 80–90°C range. The pink material definitely appeared to be living, and at temperatures considerably above those that Kempner had defined as the upper temperature of life.1


Boiling Water Spring Water Cover Slip Sulfide Concentration Label Compound 
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Copyright information

© Thomas D. Brock 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BacteriologyUniversity of Wisconsin, MadisonMadisonUSA

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