Deinococcus radiodurans: that’s the name given to a reddish spherical bacteria first isolated in 1956 by Arthur W. Anderson, a professor of microbiology at Oregon State University. This tiny microbe can survive in extreme conditions including a lack of nutrients, variations in pH, drought, and high temperatures. It can even live in a vacuum!

Did you know? Deinococcus radiodurans can tolerate incredibly high radiation doses, earning itself a place in the Guinness World Records book as the “most radiation resistant life form” on earth.

The ability to survive such extreme conditions is due to its sophisticated DNA repair mechanism. This organism carries between four and 10 copies of its genome (entire genetic material) whereas most other organisms, including humans, carry only one copy. These extra genomes may allow the bacterium to recover a complete copy of its genome after it has been exposed to radiation.

Did you know? A genome contains all of the biological information required to build and maintain a living organism.

Due to its unique properties, researchers have been looking into the possibility of using D. radiodurans to clean up contaminated waste sites. Why? Well, on one hand we have this tiny organism which has a remarkable ability to withstand very high doses of radiation and can survive in extremely harsh environments; and, on the other hand we have radiation-sensitive microbes that have an ability to detoxify a variety pollutants.

Applying genetic engineering, scientists have inserted genes from toxin degrading bacteria into D. radiodurans. The result has been radiation resistant strains of D. radiodurans that could potentially be used at radioactive waste sites to degrade pollutants and toxins of all kinds without suffering any damage. There is still much research to be done, but the results so far are promising.

Did you know? Bioremediation is the use of microorganism metabolism to degrade pollutants.

This is an example of how science is being used to help protect Mother Earth.

Learn More!

Deinococcus radiodurans - World's Toughest Bacteria

Mann, Jeffrey E. 2009. Recent advances in the development of Deinococcus spp. for use in bioremediation of mixed radioactive waste. Basic Biotechnology 5:60-65


Slade, D. and M. Radman. 2011. Oxidative Stress Resistance in Deinococcus radiodurans. Microbiol. Mol. Biol. Rev. 75(1):133-191.

Article first published April 2, 2012

Gokul Rajan

Gokul lives in New Delhi, India. He is a Masters Student in the Department of Biosciences & Bioengineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)- Bombay. Apart from Science, he enjoys travelling, reading and music. He is an athlete too, and loves cycling and running

Comments are closed.


Avatar  gklrajan

Hey! Thanks for your comment, and extremely sorry for the late reply, I was busy with my exams... Yeah, definitely, I do think so. All evolutionary advantages come at a price (you don't get anything for nothing!).
In fact, I've read somewhere that the strains of microbes which evolve resistance against a drug, may actually find it difficult to compete with its wild type (original strain) under other conditions. I'm not sure about the exact results though. I'd be glad if someone can add on to this. Also it is intuitive to think, the more complex a system is, the prone to it is to damage.

Avatar  friendethan

Do you think there is a compromise between complexity and surviving harsh conditions? I am suggesting that the extremites are mostly microbes while the mammals mostly require a specific narrow spectrum of conditions for survival.