What are Thermophiles?
Thermophiles are a special group of microbes present in the natural world that are adapted to surviving high temperatures. Many are also able to thrive in chemical extremes such as high acidity or salt content.
Their particular advantages are their ability to consume most types of natural sugars converting them into an array of substances. These substances include some very useful industrial chemicals and potential liquid fuels. Thermophiles are able to thrive in harsh process conditions that make them ideal for large-scale industrial applications.
Thermophiles are found everywhere on the globe in locations such as volcanoes and hot springs. Research scientists have collected and investigated thermophiles for decades, but still know relatively little about the individual characteristics of the thousands of organisms in existence.
Why Are They Interesting?
Thermophiles have numerous characteristics that are of interest to us:
They love heat – In their natural environment they thrive at temperatures of between 60-100°C. These temperatures make for higher production rates and reduced threat of infection by unwanted micro-organisms.
They often occur naturally in chemically challenging environments – Their normal environment can be extremely acidic, alkaline or saline. This allows for a wider range of process candidates.
They are able to consume most sugars – Thermophiles consume a wide range of sugars found in biomass. This is important for the economics of any production process.
They are environmentally friendly – Thermophiles are classed as “GRAS” or Generally Recognised As Safe by the US FDA they are subject to significantly lower levels of government regulation than genetically modified organisms so frequently discussed at the present time.
Non GM status – Since gene transfer will only be carried out between related species the transformants that result do not fall under the definition of Genetically Modified Organism making handling and commercialisation far less involved.
Whilst they share some traits, all thermophiles have developed naturally to suit their very specific environments and TMO is identifying the best possible candidates for specific production processes. They are subjected to rigorous testing, optimizing the production processes they are involved in and thus developing valuable industrial applications.