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Jesse Emspak, LiveScience ContributorDate: 04 April 2013 Time: 02:04 PM ET
|A. fulgidus microbes, which are found in extremely hot hydrothermal vents, can use perchlorate, an ingredient in rocket fuel, for energy.
CREDIT: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
An ancient form of life can use an ingredient in rocket fuel for energy, suggesting creatures with this odd ability are more diverse than anyone thought.
The new discovery might offer insight into the history of life on the early Earth, and the evolution of metabolisms like ours that use reactive chemicals like oxygen.
Called Archaeoglobus fulgidus, today the microbe lives in extreme environments, such as extremely hot hydrothermal vents. It’s a member of the Archaea, one of the three domains of life. (The other domains are bacteria, or prokaryotes, and creatures with cells that have nuclei, or eukaryotes, which include humans and other multicellular life.) Archaeans are some of the oldest life forms on Earth, thought to have appeared at least 2.7 billion years ago – and they are possibly much older than that. They often live in environments that don’t have oxygen or are otherwise inhospitable to many other living things.
A group of Dutch researchers found that A. fulgidus metabolizes perchlorate, a chlorine atom connected to four oxygen atoms. Moreover, the microbe does so in a different way than known Archaea or bacteria do ― A. fulgidus is missing one of the enzymes other bacteria use to break down perchlorate. [In Photos: Archaea Turn Great Salt Lake Pink]