“Life in Extreme Environments” with Ricardo Amils (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain)

Following the interest in the concept of habitability which will be conveniently discussed in the present series of talks, we need to introduce the importance of extremophiles to know the limits of life and in the search of life elsewhere in the universe. The official interest in extremophiles can be dated in the mid of the seventies after C. Woese introduced the notion of Archaea as the third Domain of life, based on his evolutionary studies on ribosomal RNA. To do that he selected many microorganisms growing in extreme conditions and concluded using the catalogs of oligonucleotide sequence from the ribosomal RNAs that in addition to true bacteria and eukaryotes existed a collection of extremophiles that although having a prokaryotic life style they had molecular properties close to the eukaryotic cells. Although the interest in extremophiles started many years before around the role of halophiles in the spoiling of cold fish preserved in salt and the discovery that the oxidation of the mining metallic components was due to acidophilic bacteria and not to the atmospheric oxygen. At the same time that the concept of Archaea was gaining new adepts T. Brock was describing the existence of hyperthermophiles associated to the volcanic areas of Yellowstone. Since then a race started to discover the most extremophilic organism. Due to their characteristics extremophiles are considered of interest in many biotechnological processes.

Ricardo Amils is an emeritus professor of microbiology at the Department of Molecular Biology of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain). He did his PhD at the Faculty of Medicine of the Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina) and held two associate research positions at Dartmouth Medical School and the Chemistry Department of Columbia University (USA). He is an expert in molecular ecology of extreme environments having published more than 350 research papers. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Science of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, director of the Astrobiology and Planetology and Habitability departments at the Centro de Astrobiología, member of the Solar Exploration Group of ESA and interdisciplinary scientist of the ESA Mars Express mission. He received the NASA Achievement Award for its participation in the Mars Analog Research and Technology Experiment project. He is a member of the Academia Europeae since 2016.

Webinar was recorded on February 24, 2022