Extremophiles: Methanogens

Extremophiles are very interesting organisms that inhabit seemingly uninhabitable areas on the Earth. They thrive in intense environments, and their relative abundance on the Earth provides hope that if life can survive in such extreme situations, perhaps finding life outside of our own planet is not as far-fetched as it may sound (Prather, Offerdahl, and Slater). One such extremophile is methanogens.

Unknown-1Source: Google search

Methanogens are classified as anaerobes, or extremophiles that love low-oxygen environments. They can be found in the digestive tracts of mammals or ocean and lake sediments that produce methane (Prather, Offerdahl, and Slater). They are single cell organisms that produce methane through metabolism, and on average methanogens produce 109 tons of methane per year (“Methanogens”).  Why are these microorganisms interesting to study for astronomy? They don’t need oxygen to survive, which suggests that life can exist in other worlds even if oxygen is not present. This allows astronomers to open the possibility of worlds without oxygen to potentially harbor life, and it raises interesting questions about how we should create the criteria for the search for life outside our own planet.


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