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Life's Extreme Environments

  • Teacher Resource
  • Posted 05.10.12
  • NOVA

In this video excerpt from NOVA, meet organisms that thrive in a wide variety of harsh conditions, such as dry deserts, toxin-laden lakes, dark caves, and acidic rivers. These microbes—dubbed extremophiles—show life’s adaptiveness and are broadening scientist’s understanding of the diverse environmental conditions life can withstand. Since similar conditions have been detected or inferred on other planets or moons, microbes might live there as well. In activity four from the education collection that accompanies this video, students match a microbe to an extreme environment in which it could live using cards that show extremophiles and some of Earth’s extreme environments.

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Supplemental Media Available: Education Collection (Document)

NOVA Life's Extreme Environments
  • Media Type: Video
  • Running Time: 1m 50s
  • Size: 6.5 MB
  • Level: Grades 6-12

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This media asset was excerpted from NOVA: "Finding Life Beyond Earth."

Questions for Discussion

    • What is an extremophile?
    • What kinds of extreme environments can life thrive in?
    • Why do scientists want to study extreme habitats on Earth?


NARRATOR: Discoveries here on Earth are revealing that life can withstand an even wider variety of conditions than previously thought. Missions to extreme environments are showing that microbes can live in dry deserts and thrive in lakes full of poisonous arsenic. Bacteria survive in slimy colonies on cave walls, dripping with sulfuric acid, living off noxious hydrogen sulfide gas. And microbes flourish in toxic rivers of corrosive industrial waste.

JIM GREEN (DIRECTOR, PLANETARY SCIENCE DIVISION, NASA): We now know it's possible for microorganisms to exist in these large acidic, and even poisonous, regions.

TIM SHANK (BIOLOGIST, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION): The more we look at the extreme habitats on Earth, the more we find life there. We're pushing back the limits of where life can live, all the time, through our own discoveries.

NARRATOR: From freezing glaciers to super-heated hot springs; from high deserts, blasted by ultraviolet radiation, to deep mines, miles underground and ocean trenches where sunlight never penetrates, scientists are discovering that life finds a way to adapt and thrive.

Resource Produced by:

					WGBH Educational Foundation

Collection Developed by:

						WGBH Educational Foundation

Collection Funded by:


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