What Are Thermophilic Bacteria?

Thermophilic bacteria are microorganisms found in areas that have temperatures too high for other types of bacteria. These bacteria live, reproduce and thrive in temperatures ranging from 113 degrees to more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thermophilic bacteria can be found growing naturally in the hottest places on Earth. Hot springs, volcanoes and geysers are great places for them. They are also found in all types of manure and thrive in compost heaps. It is estimated that 1 trillion bacteria can fit into a single teaspoon of waste material. They are the organisms responsible for the breakdown of organic matter in the compost. Due to the high heat required, and the additional heat they create when eating the materials in the heap, they are the reason for spontaneous compost fires.

Thermophilic bacteria are not only used in agricultural applications, but are finding their way into technology too. The enzyme needed to perform DNA matching is created using Thermus aquaticus and Thermococcus litoralis, two thermophiles.

The thermophiles that reside in the highest temperatures, well above the boiling point of water, are referred to as extreme thermophiles. Some scientists have theorized that thermophiles are the Earth's oldest living organisms. Thermophilic bacteria were first discovered in 1966 in the natural hot springs in Yellowstone National park.