Biologists from American University (Washington, USA) conducted a genetic study of the roundworm Halicephalobus Mephisto. It is able to live at a depth of up to 3.6 km below the earth's surface, where no other multicellular organism can survive, according to the journal Nature Communications.

Halicephalobus Mephisto, or diabolical worms, got their name from the mythical evil spirit of Mephistopheles - an underground demon from German legends who avoided sunlight. These animals are classified as extremophiles - creatures that are able to live and breed in extreme environmental conditions. The species was first discovered in 2011 in gold ore mined from the depths of a South African mine.

Small black creatures about half a millimeter long are the most deeply living of the known multicellular organisms on the planet. The water accumulations in which Halicephalobus Mephisto live are heated to 48 ° C, contain ultra-low oxygen levels and large amounts of methane. Scientists have identified the sequence of the DNA and RNA acids that make up the genome of the devil worm in order to learn more about its abilities to inhabit under such conditions.

  • Genome analysis revealed that worms learned how to make copies of genes necessary for survival
  • © Andrew Brookes

The study showed that the Halicephalobus Mephisto genome contains a large number of Hsp70 proteins - genes known for their ability to regenerate cells after the damaging effects of high temperatures. Squirrels turned out to be self-reproducing - when decrypting, their numerous copies were discovered. Also in the genome there were copies of AIG1 genes responsible for the vitality of cells in plants and animals. According to scientists, making copies of genes, the animal was protected from aggressive environmental influences.

“The devil worm has nowhere to go, because he lives underground. He can only adapt or die. We assume that if the animal cannot move away from the source of heat, then in order to survive, it begins to additionally copy these two genes, ”said one of the project managers, assistant professor of biology John Brecht.

The scientist also noted that the study brought science closer to understanding the mechanisms of survival on Earth, and also opened new horizons for the search for life beyond its borders. The work of biologists, by the way, was already interested in NASA, since the results obtained may prove useful in the search for living organisms on other planets.

The authors will also continue the study of Halicephalobus Mephisto to study evolutionary adaptation in conditions of global warming.