Author(s): Daniel RM, Cowan DA
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Abstract It is not clear what the upper temperature limit for life is, or what specific factors will set this limit, but it is generally assumed that the limit will be dictated by molecular instability. In this review, we examine the thermal stability of two key groups of biological molecules: the intracellular small molecules/metabolites and the major classes of macromolecules. Certain small molecules/metabolites are unstable in vitro at the growth temperatures of the hyperthermophiles in which they are found. This instability appears to be dealt with in vivo by a range of mechanisms including rapid turnover, metabolic channelling and local stabilisation. Evidence to date suggests that proteins have the potential to be stable at substantially higher temperatures than those known to support life, but evidence concerning degradative reactions above 100 degrees C is slight. DNA duplex stability is apparently achieved at high temperature by elevated salt concentrations, polyamines, cationic proteins, and supercoiling rather than manipulation of C-G ratios. RNA stability seems dependent upon covalent modification, although secondary structure is probably also critical. The diether-linked lipids, which make up the monolayer membrane of most organisms growing above 85 degrees C are chemically very stable and seem potentially capable of maintaining membrane integrity at much higher temperatures. However, the in vivo implications of the in vitro instability of biomolecules are difficult to assess, and in vivo data are rare.
This article was published in Cell Mol Life Sci
and referenced in Journal of Physical Chemistry & Biophysics