Life on the Edge

Overview

Can life exist in the Antarctic ice, in the deep subsurface, in dilute sulfuric acid, in hot springs-even on Mars? What degree of high or low temperature, pressure, or salt concentration can living cells tolerate? In recent years, scientists have discovered many single-cell creatures that exist in-in fact, are perfectly adapted to-extreme environments that were considered uninhabitable just one or two decades ago. In Life on the Edge, author Michael Gross explores how microorganisms adapt to their hostile ...

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Life On The Edge

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Overview

Can life exist in the Antarctic ice, in the deep subsurface, in dilute sulfuric acid, in hot springs-even on Mars? What degree of high or low temperature, pressure, or salt concentration can living cells tolerate? In recent years, scientists have discovered many single-cell creatures that exist in-in fact, are perfectly adapted to-extreme environments that were considered uninhabitable just one or two decades ago. In Life on the Edge, author Michael Gross explores how microorganisms adapt to their hostile environments and how they affect our current definition of the "normal" conditions for life. He also describes the vast implications of these extremophiles and other amazing creatures-from potential breakthroughs in medicine and biotechnology to the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Describes life on Earth not by the rules but by the exceptions to them, looking at the most hostile habitats of the our environment and their most hardened inhabitants. Analyzes survival strategies of these single-cell creatures in a way accessible to lay readers but still in touch with the latest research in areas such as heat-shock proteins and genome sequencing. Describes the significance of research on such organisms for fields including biotechnology, medicine, and research into the origin and early evolution of life, and explores the possibility of life on other planets. Includes sidebars and glossary. Originally published in German as , 1996, Spektrum Akademischer Verlag. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738204451
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Gross

Dr. Michael Gross has studied various aspects of life under extreme conditions throughout his research career. He received his doctorate in physical biochemistry from the University of Regensburg, Germany. After seven years of research in protein biochemistry at the University of Oxford, he has recently switched to writing full time. He lives in Oxford, England, and is the author also of Travels to the Nanoworld.

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Table of Contents

Of Extremists and Eccentrics: A Personal Preface
1 Introduction: Life and Its Limits 1
Things One Needs for a Living 3
What Do We Mean by "Normal" after All? 9
The Limits of Life on Earth 11
2 Extreme Environments and Their Inhabitants 15
Profile: Thomas Brock and the Discovery of the Hyperthermophiles 16
Some Like It Hot: Life around Geysers and Volcanoes 17
Stay Cool: Life at Subzero Temperatures 29
Sidelines: Of Polar Bears and Penguins - Vertebrate Life at the Poles 33
Living under Pressure: The Deep Sea 34
Sidelines: On Diving 38
A Light in the Dark: Luminescent Creatures of the Deep Sea 41
Travel to the Center of the Earth: The Deep Subsurface as a Biotope 43
Extra Dry: Survival in the Desert 48
Saturated with Salt: The (Allegedly) Dead Sea as a Biotope 50
Acid Heads and Basic Needs: Life at Extreme pH 52
Nature's Eco-Brigade: Oil-Degrading Bacteria 56
3 The Cell's Survival Kit 61
The Heat Shock Response 62
Sidelines: How to Hunt for Stress Proteins 63
Heat Shock Proteins Acting as Molecular Chaperones 65
Antifreeze and Cold Shock Proteins 69
Focus: Structure and Function of the Heat Shock Protein GroEL 70
Adaptations by Changes of Amino Acid Sequences 75
Chemical Adaptations: Small Molecules 78
Some New Tricks from the Cell's Repair Workshop 79
Focus: The Growing Family of Photolyase Enzymes 81
Sidelines: How Hot Love Helps Archaebacteria to Survive 84
Waiting for Better Times: Sporulation as a Survival Strategy 85
Focus: The Case of the Missing Alanine - a Biochemical Detective Story 86
Two's Company: Symbiosis Helps Species to Spread in Hostile Environments 92
4 Relevance of Extremes for Biotechnology and Medicine 99
An Extremely Short History of Biotechnology 100
Hyperthermophilic Enzymes 102
Profile: Kary Mullis and the Polymerase Chain Reaction 103
Preservation by Freezing and Freeze-Drying 105
Profile: Pierre Douzou and the Invention of Cryoenzymology 107
High-Pressure Biotechnology 109
Bacteriorhodopsin as an Optoelectronic Component 112
Extremophiles and Disease: Acid-Resistant Bacteria in the Stomach 115
Medical Applications of Heat Shock Proteins 117
5 Extremists and the Tree of Life 121
The Origin of Life - the Primeval Earth as an Extreme Habitat 122
From Building Blocks to Chain Molecules 124
Profile: Stanley Miller and the Primordial Soup 125
Ribozymes - Relics of a Lost World? 128
Archaebacteria: A New, Very Old Domain of Life 129
Focus: Ribozymes with New Activities and New Structures 130
Methanococcus jannaschii: Decoding an Archaebacterium 136
Do We All Come out of the Heat? 141
Focus: Inteins Everywhere - a Surprising By-product of the Methanococcus Sequencing 142
Searching for Gaia: Life on Earth as a Hyperorganism 147
Profile: James Lovelock - a Heretic? 148
6 Life beyond Earth 151
How to Detect Life on a Planet 152
Profile: Carl Sagan and the Quest for Life in the Universe 153
Is There Life on Mars? 154
Sidelines: First Results of Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor 158
Strange Worlds: The Moons of the Big Gas Planets 162
Are There Any Planets Orbiting Other Stars? 163
The Spore's Guide to the Galaxy 166
7 Glossary 169
8 Further Reading and Internet Links 175
Figure Acknowledgments 189
Index 191
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