6 Most Extreme Places on Earth, Where Only Bacteria Can Live

When we think of inhospitable places, we may think of areas like Antarctica, or, frankly D.C. in July where the almost 100% humidity makes you feel like you’re swimming down the street. But there are a whole host of other regions where we wouldn’t like to live where other organisms thrive. 

Namely, bacteria and other prokayrotes. 

Ordinarily when we think of these little micro-organism critters, we think of the bugs that give us acne or infections, but in reality these little guys can help us understand some of the mysteries of life structured differently from our own eukaryotic selves.

Why do these little bugs matter? 

Many scientists suspect that if life does exist on other planets, it’s probably going to be bacteria, based on the conditions we already know to exist. Additionally, if we can figure out how they survive in some of the world’s harshest conditions, we have a shot at figuring out how we can, too. 

Enjoy this list of places you’d never think about trying to live, but where you can actually find bacteria.

1. Earth's Upper Atmosphere

The border between our atmosphere and outer space is full of UV radiation and seriously lacking heat and oxygen. However, just this month scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that 20% of what they assumed was dust on their jet plane after a flight six miles above the earth’s surface was actually alive! These findings indicate that we’re surrounded by a giant bubble of life, which has huge implications for how we understand environmental science.  

2. The Bottom of the Ocean

In addition to thriving in high-pressure areas where we humans would be crushed, these bacteria have found a way to make the most out of a limited oxygen supply. These bacteria create a tiny power grid where they engage in extracellular electron transfer that creates an electric current that helps couple biochemical processes — mostly, sharing oxygen where there is very little. These microbes have learned the benefits of community living. 

3. Volcanoes

In volcanoes in the Southern Hemisphere, temperatures can fluctuate between -10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) and 58 degrees Celsius (133 degrees Fahrenheit) in less than a day. The microbes that live here aren’t the most efficient at converting energy, but the fact that they survive where the only sources of power are things lethal to humans, like carbon monoxide, is incredible.  

4. The Dead Sea

This body of water gets its name from the high salinity concentration that prevents most life. (It also makes you super buoyant, so floating becomes even easier.) However, certain types of microbes are more than happy to soak up the salt. Not so dead any more, is it?

5. Antarctica

Yes, even bacteria can be found well below zero. These frigid conditions would ordinarily cause the elastic membranes of most living organisms to become brittle and break, but certain types of fungi, bacteria, and viruses definitely prefer icy conditions to even room temperature.

6. YOU.

You may have heard that bacteria can actually help with digestion, but your stomach and small intestine are just some of the environments that microbes are happy to live in. They also live all over the surface of your skin, as well as the areas of your body that are protected by a mucus layer, like your eyes, nose, mouth, and even the vagina.  You may not think about it, but more often than not bacteria do processes you can’t on your own, like synthesizing vitamins and breaking down cellulose (fibers found in all greens). Additionally, these bacteria work with your immune system to keep you healthy, and protect you from the harmful ones you’d rather not host.