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Potentially valuable new microbe found in Nevada hot springs

Illustration for article titled Potentially valuable new microbe found in Nevada hot springs

Proving that everything in Nevada is able to withstand stupefying levels of heat, a newly-discovered microbe from the state is not only able to survive temperatures above boiling, but is also one of the only microbes who can digest cellulose at high temperatures.

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Researchers discovered the hyperthermophilic microbes, called archaea, in a geothermal pool clocking in at 95°C, a respectable temperature, but not nearly as impressive as some deep sea microbes near hydrothermal vents. What makes this Nevada microbe special is that the enzyme it uses to digest cellulose is active at these high temperatures. This is only the second-ever cellulase found that can function above 80°C, and this archaea's is most active at a record-breaking 109°C.

So, why does it matter that we've found an enzyme that can break down cellulose in hot conditions? Enzymes are used in industrial and scientific processes, and one that can function under more extreme conditions would be incredibly useful. Using an enzyme like this, manufacturers can superheat their chemicals to block other microbes and enzymes from contaminating the process. This gives them more control and purer results. Specifically, this archaea enzyme could be use to pre-treat biomass for biofuel processing, making it easier to break down the fuel sources at a later stage.

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Research published in Nature Communications

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DISCUSSION

Thank you io9 for having a reasonable science-journalism headline. None of this "ARE ALIENS REAL?" nonsense that sometimes crops up. Bravo for restraint!