The Biocatalytic Potential of Extremophiles and Extremozymes

Joseph Gomes* and Walter Steiner

Institute of Biotechnology and Bioprocess Engineering, Graz University of Technology, Petersgasse 12, A-8010 Graz, Austria

Article history:

Received August 11, 2004
Accepted November 22, 2004

Key words:

extremophiles, extremozymes, biocatalytic potential, thermophiles, psychrophiles, alkaliphiles, acidophiles, halophiles, piezophiles, metalophiles


Extremophiles are bizarre microorganisms that can grow and thrive in extreme environments, which were formerly considered too hostile to support life. The extreme conditions may be high or low temperature, high or low pH, high salinity, high metal concentrations, very low nutrient content, very low water activity, high radiation, high pressure and low oxygen tension. Some extremophiles are subject to multiple stress conditions. Extremophiles are structurally adapted at the molecular level to withstand these harsh conditions. The biocatalysts, called extremozymes, produced by these microorganisms, are proteins that function under extreme conditions. Due to their extreme stability, extremozymes offer new opportunities for biocatalysis and biotransformation. Examples of extremozymes include cellulases, amylases, xylanases, proteases, pectinases, keratinases, lipases, esterases, catalases, peroxidases and phytases, which have great potential for application in various biotechnological processes. Currently, only 1–2 % of the microorganisms on the Earth have been commercially exploited and amongst these there are only a few examples of extremophiles. However, the renewed interest that is currently emerging as a result of new developments in the cultivation and production of extremophiles and success in the cloning and expression of their genes in mesophilic hosts will increase the biocatalytic applications of extremozymes.

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