Microorganisms in High‐Temperature Sulfur Environments


Sulfur‐rich high‐temperature environments such as solfataric fields, hot springs and ‘black smokers’ provide habitats for microbial life at the upper temperature border. Such regions have yielded extremely and hyperthermophilic bacteria and archaea that grow optimally at temperatures above 70 °C, some even above 100 °C.

Key Concepts

  • Hyperthermophilic and extremely thermophilic bacteria and archaea thrive at high temperature, up to boiling point of water.
  • They are phylogenetically and metabolically diverse.
  • They represent deepest phylogenetic linages in prokaryotes.
  • They perform closed sulfur cycle in thermal environments.
  • The highest growth temperature is the capacity of microorganisms inhabiting deep‐sea hot vents.

Keywords: thermophiles; hyperthermophiles; hot springs; deep‐sea hydrothermal vents; sulfur cycle

Figure 1. 16S rRNA‐based phylogenetic tree (schematic drawing; lineages of hyperthermophiles in bold lines).
Figure 2. Growth of Aquificales in a high‐temperature hot spring.


Barns SM, Fundyga RE, Jeffries MW and Pace NR (1994) Remarkable archaeal diversity detected in a Yellowstone National Park hot spring environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 91: 1609–1613.

Chernyh NA, Mardanov AV, Gumerov VM, et al. (2015) Microbial life in Bourlyashchy, the hottest thermal pool of Uzon Caldera, Kamchatka. Extremophiles 19: 1157–1171.

Elkins JE, Podar M, Graham DE, et al. (2006) A korarchaeal genome reveals insights into the evolution of the archaea. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105: 8102–8107.

Gavrilov SN, Stracke C, Jensen K, et al. (2016) Isolation and characterization of the first xylanolytic hyperthermophilic euryarchaeon Thermococcus sp. 2319x1 and its unusual multidomain glycosidase. Frontiers of Microbiology 7: 552.

Hattori K and Cameron EM (1986) Archaean magmatic sulphate. Nature 319: 45–47.

Huber H, Hohn MJ, Rachel R, et al. (2002) A new phylum of Archaea represented by a nanosized hyperthermophilic symbiont. Nature 417: 63–67.

Kim YJ, Lee HS and Kim ES (2010) Formate‐driven growth coupled with H(2) production. Nature 467: 352–355.

Merkel AY, Pimenov NV, Rusanov II, et al. (2017) Microbial diversity and autotrophic activity in Kamchatka hot springs. Extremophiles 21: 307–317.

Prangishvili D, Forterre P and Garret RA (2006) Viruses of Archaea: a unifying view. Nature Reviews Microbiology 4: 837–848.

Rainey FA, Donnison AM, Janssen PH, et al. (1994) Description of Caldicellulosiruptor saccharolyticus gen. nov., sp. nov: an obligately anaerobic, extremely thermophilic, cellulolytic bacterium. FEMS Microbiology Letters 120: 263–266.

Reysenbach A‐L, Liu Y, Banta AM, et al. (2006) A ubiquitous thermoacidophilic archaeon from deep‐sea hydrothermal vents. Nature 442: 444–447.

Slobodkin AI, Reysenbach A‐L, Slobodkina GB, et al. (2012) Thermosulfurimonas dismutans gen. nov., sp. nov., an extremely thermophilic sulfur‐disproportionating bacterium from a deep‐sea hydrothermal vent. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology 62: 2565–2571.

Slobodkina GB, Mardanov AV, Ravin NV, et al. (2017) Respiratory ammonification of nitrate coupled to anaerobic oxidation of elemental sulfur in deep‐sea autotrophic thermophilic bacteria. Frontiers in Microbiology 8: 87. DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.00087.

Sokolova TG, Jeanthon C and Kostrikina NA (2004) The first evidence of anaerobic carbon monoxide oxidation coupled with hydrogen production by a hyperthermophilic archaeon isolated from a deep‐sea hydrothermal vent. Extremophiles 8: 317–323.

Svetlichny VA, Sokolova TG and Gerhardt M (1991) Carboxydothermus hydrogenoformans gen. nov., sp. nov., a carbon monoxide‐utilizing thermophilic anaerobic bacterium from hydrothermal environments of Kunashir Island. Systematic and Applied Microbiology 14: 254–260.

Takai K and Horikoshi K (1999) Genetic diversity of archaea in deep‐sea hydrothermal vent environments. Genetics 152: 1285–1297.

Takai K, Nakamura K, Toki T, et al. (2008) Cell proliferation at 122 °C and isotopically heavy CH4 production by a hyperthermophilic methanogen under high‐pressure cultivation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105: 10949–10954.

Toshchakov SV, Korzhenkov AA, Samarov NI, et al. (2015) Complete genome sequence of and proposal of Thermofilum uzonense sp. nov., a novel hyperthermophilic crenarchaeon and emended description of the genus Thermofilum. Standards in Genomic Sciences 10: 122.

Vagras M, Kashefi K, Blunt‐Harris E and Loveley DR (1998) Microbiological evidence of Fe(III) reduction on early Earth. Nature 395: 65–67.

Woese CR (1987) Bacterial evolution. Microbiological Reviews 51: 221–271.

Woese CR, Kandler O and Wheelis ML (1990) Towards a natural system of organisms: proposal for the domain archaea, bacteria, and eucarya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 87: 4576–4579.

Zillig W, Gierl A, Schreiber G, et al. (1983) The archaebacterium Thermofilum pendens represents a novel genus of the thermophilic, anaerobic sulfur respiring Thermoproteales. Systematic and Applied Microbiology 4: 79–87.

Further Reading

Anitory RP (ed.) (2012) Extremophiles: Microbiology and Biotechnology. Caister Academic Press.

Stetter KO (1992) Life at the upper temperature border. In: Van Tran Thanh JK, Mounolou JC, Schneider J and McKay C (eds) Frontiers of Life, pp 195–219. Editions Frontières: Gif‐sur‐Yvette, France.

Stetter KO (1996) Hyperthermophilic procaryotes. FEMS Microbiology Reviews 18: 149–158.

Stetter KO (1999) Volcanoes, hydrothermal venting, and the origin of life. In: Marti J and Ernst GJ (eds) Volcanoes and the Environment. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Satyanarayana T, Littlechild J and Kawarabayashi Y (eds) (2013) Thermophilic Microbes in Environmental and Industrial Biotechnology, 2nd edn. Springer: Dordrecht, Netherlands.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Bonch‐Osmolovskaya, Elizaveta(May 2020) Microorganisms in High‐Temperature Sulfur Environments. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000405.pub3]