A hyperthermophile is an organism that thrives in extremely hot environments— from 60 degrees C (140 degrees F) upwards. An optimal temperature for the existence of hyperthermophiles is above 80°C (176°F). Hyperthermophiles are a subset of extremophiles, micro-organisms within the domain Archaea, although some bacteria are able to tolerate temperatures of around 100°C (212°F), too. Many hyperthermophiles are also able to withstand other environmental extremes such as high acidity or radiation levels.
Hyperthermophiles were first discovered by Thomas D. Brock in 1969, in hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Since then, more than fifty species have been discovered. The most hardy hyperthermophiles yet discovered live on the superheated walls of deep-sea hydrothermal vents, requiring temperatures of at least 90°C for survival. An extraordinary heat-tolerant hyperthermophile is the recently discovered Strain 121 which has been able to double its population during 24 hours in an autoclave at 121°C (hence its name); the current record growth temperature is 122°C, for Methanopyrus kandleri.
Although no hyperthermophile has yet been discovered living at temperatures above 122°C, their existence is very possible (Strain 121 survived being heated to 130°C for two hours, but was not able to reproduce until it had been transferred into a fresh growth medium, at a relatively cooler 103°C). However, it is thought unlikely that microbes could survive at temperatures above 150°C, as the cohesion of DNA and other vital molecules begins to break down at this point.
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Pyrococcus furiosus is an extremophilic species of Archaea. It is notable for having an optimum growth temperature of 100°C (a temperature which would destroy most living organisms), and for being one of the few organisms identified as possessing enzymes containing tungsten, an element rarely found in biological molecules.