Pyrococcus furiosus
Michelle Kropf

The Pyrococcus furiosus was discovered by Karl Stetter in 1986 off of Italy. It is a hyperthermophilic Archaea that grows at an astonishing 100°C, with a range between 70°C and 103°C. Optimally its pH is at 7, but it can stand between a pH of 5 and 9. It is anaerobic and heterotrophic in nature and has a fermentative metabolism. The P. furiosus is found in deep sea vents and volcanic marine mud off of Italy, and can be cultured in its genus specific Pyrococcus complex medium that contains salts, yeast extract, peptone, sulfur, seawater, and a few other components. With a fast doubling time of only 37 minutes it can be easily used in laboratory settings. Physically, it is coccus shape between 0.8 and 2.5 microns in diameter with a monopolar polytrichous archaella (the archaeal equivalent of flagella). Monopolar implies it has an archaella at one pole of the bacterium, and polytrichous means it has many strings of archaella.  All together, the archaella is on the most visually astonishing characteristics of the bacterium (see photo below).

Figure 1: Single P. furiosus bacterium highlighting the beauty of the archaella.

A very interesting fact about the bacterium is it has enzymes that contain tungsten, a very rare phenomena for biological organisms. Tungsten is believed to fuel the growth of the bacterium. Scientists have isolated from it a red-colored protein that is believed to be an inactive form of a type of oxidoreductase. Under the anaerobic conditions the P. furiosus lives in this inactive form is activated, and is used to oxidize glyceraldehyde. The protein is scientifically significant for two reasons: it is the first aldehyde oxidoreductase to be found in an Archaea bacterium, and it is a unique form of aldehyde oxidizing enzyme.

The uses of P. furiosus are quite varied. Its thermostable enzymes are often used in Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), a form of DNA amplification. Cycles of heating and cooling cause DNA strands to come apart, and then primers and DNA polymerase come through rebuilding the blank sides of the strands with the conjugate base pairs; cooling causes them to rejoin. The problem with PCR is the heating needed  to separate DNA strands is very high and many organisms do not have enzymes that can withstand these temperatures. This is why the DNA polymerase is often taken from thermophiles that have thermostable enzymes that can withstand the heat. Because of the aforementioned ease of culturing, P. furiosus is a good candidate for PCR.

The bacterium has also been studied for its unique method of detoxifying superoxide into hydrogen peroxide then water. Typically superoxide dismutase is used to detoxify superoxide. This reaction produces oxygen as an intermediate that is then converted to hydrogen peroxide. However, being anaerobic, the oxygen intermediate would be fatal to the bacteria so they need an alternative method of detoxification. P. furiosus uses a specific superoxide reductase, and borrows an electron from another compound, to reduce superoxide to hydrogen peroxide and water without harmful oxygen as an intermediate. This could have potential industrial uses.

Another study showed how the P. furiosus has also modified its method of metabolizing sugars—its own modified Embden-Myerhof pathway. Also in this study they found that P. furiosus may have a distinct way to regenerate ATP. Another application of the bacterium’s enzymes may be in plants. Plants become very stressed under extreme conditions (like high temperature and little water) and “shut down”. By splicing the aforementioned superoxide detoxification gene into plants, they could possibly live in places like Mars or harsh deserts of third-world countries.

Figure 2: P. furiosus under a SEM illustrating surface structure. This also shows how sometimes the up to 70 archaella threads can be used to attach to surfaces.


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Pyrococcus furiosus. (2008). [Web]. Retrieved from*

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*Denotes Figure 1

**Denotes Figure 2

*Disclaimer - This report was written by a student participaring in a microbiology course at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The accuracy of the contents of this report is not guaranteed and it is recommended that you seek additional sources of information to verify the contents.


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