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Psychrophiles or Cryophiles (adj. cryophilic) are extremophilic organisms that are capable of growth and reproduction in cold temperatures, ranging from -15°C - +10°C. Temperatures as low as -15°C are found in pockets of very salty water (brine) surrounded by sea ice. They can be contrasted with thermophiles, which thrive at unusually hot temperatures. The environments they inhabit are ubiquitous on Earth, as a large fraction of our planetary surface experiences temperatures lower than 15°C. They are present in alpine and arctic soils, high-latitude and deep ocean waters, polar ice, glaciers, and snowfields. They are of particular interest to astrobiology, the field dedicated to the formulation of theory about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and to geomicrobiology, the study of microbes active in geochemical processes.

Psychrophiles utilize a wide variety of metabolic pathways, including photosynthesis, chemoautotrophy (also sometimes known as lithotrophy), and heterotrophy, and form robust, diverse communities. Most psychrophiles are bacteria or archaea, and psychrophily is present in widely diverse microbial lineages within those broad groups. Additionally, recent research has discovered novel groups of psychrophilic fungi living in oxygen-poor areas under alpine snowfields. A further group of eukaryotic cold-adapted organisms are snow algae, which can cause watermelon snow. Psychrophiles are characterized by lipid cell membranes chemically resistant to the stiffening caused by extreme cold, and often create protein 'antifreezes' to keep their internal space liquid and protect their DNA even in temperatures below water's freezing point.

Examples are Arthrobacter sp., Psychrobacter sp., and members of the genera Halomonas, Pseudomonas, Hyphomonas, and Sphingomonas.

See also


1. Yoshinori Murata, et al., "Genome-wide expression analysis of yeast response during exposure to 4C," Extremophiles (2006) 10:117–128

2. Jill A. Mikucki, et al., "A Contemporary Microbially Maintained Subglacial Ferrous 'Ocean' " Science 324, 397 (2009);



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