Microorganisms in extreme pressure (Piezophiles/ Barophiles)


Piezophile Definition and Characteristics

  • Barophiles are defined as organisms that grow and thrive optimally at pressures greater than atmospheric pressure.
  • The term piezophile is used as a replacement to barophile as piezo means pressure in Greek.
  • Barophilic bacteria have been isolated from various deep-sea environments throughout the world and have been grown rapidly at low temperatures and high pressures.
  • Bacteria living in the deep-sea display several unusual features that allow them to thrive in their extreme environment.
  • Most barophilic organisms tend to be psychrophilic and thus cannot be cultured at a temperature above 20°C.
  • Similarly, many barophiles tend to be obligate barophiles with few archaea acting as moderately barophilic.
  • It has been seen that the pressure needed for the maximal rate of reproduction at 2°C may reflect the true habitat depth of an isolate.
  • High pressure affects the survival of microorganisms, where it influences the membrane structure and functioning of the cell.
  • High pressure and low temperature in deep-sea environments decrease the fluidity of lipids and even depress the functions of biological membranes.

Piezophile Mode of adaptation


  • High pressure might cause the formation of a gel-like membrane which then decreases nutrient uptake and processing.
  • Barophiles produce increased levels of unsaturated fatty acids in the lipids and increasing the extent of fatty acid unsaturation can maintain the membrane in a functional liquid crystalline state at high pressures, low temperatures, or both.
  • The reduced fluidity gives a defined structure to the membrane, which supports the normal functioning of the cell.

  • The high-pressure condition suitable for barophiles results in conformational changes in the proteins that inhibit their function.
  • In order to prevent such changes, barophilic proteins usually have lower concentrations of proline residues and a higher concentration of glycine residues.
  • The proline residues have cyclic side chains that disrupt alpha-helices, whereas the glycine residues have small side chains with high conformational flexibility.
  • The increased flexibility prevents the disruption of alpha helices and protects the function of such proteins.

Piezophile Examples

  • Some common examples of barophilic microorganisms are Shewanella benthica, Moritella yayanosii, Shewanella violacea, Photobacterium profundum, Moritella japonica, Sporosarcina spp, etc.

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