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A Bit of History: Microbes and Humans

A Bit of History: Microbes and Humans

(p.6) 1 A Bit of History: Microbes and Humans
Microbes from Hell
Patrick Forterre, Teresa Lavender Fagan
University of Chicago Press

This chapter starts summarizing how our conception of the living world classification evolved. The concepts of microbes, cells, prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and viruses are briefly presented and the reasons why life was not expected to be present in hell are explained. The history of hyperthermophile unexpected discovery is then described, starting from the first observations of “vegetation” in hot springs of Yellowstone national park in the nineteen century to the first isolation in 1972 of an actual hyperthermophile in this park, Sulfolobus. Amazingly, this bug turned out to be member of a new domain of life described in 1977 by Carl Woese and George Fox, the archaebacteria (later on called archaea). The concept of archaebacteria led to the rapid discovery new families of hyperthermophiles growing at temperatures up to 110°C by German microbiologists Wolfram Zillig and Karl Stetter during their expeditions in Iceland and Italy. This was followed by the discovery of unique viruses infecting these microbes. The chapter ends with a first description of the origin of life problem and how the discovery of hyperthermophiles suggested new hypotheses favouring at first a hot origin.

Keywords:   prokaryote, eukaryote, archaebacteria, microorganism, virus, Yellowstone, Carl Woese, Karl Stetter, Wolfram Zillig, origin of life

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