A Microbial Hot Spring in Your Basement


Scientists found heat-loving microbes living in water heaters in homes across the United States.

Microbes that thrive in some of the most extreme places on Earth have discovered another cozy place to live — inside homes across the United States.

Extremophiles like those found in hot springs and thermal vents are also common in residential water heaters, according to a nationwide study that sheds new light on the extent of extremophile colonization in homes and provides insight about how the heat-loving microbes spread.

"Extremophiles are a huge part of the biosphere," said Regina Wilpiszeski, a postdoctoral researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a recent Penn State doctoral recipient. "If we want to understand what life on Earth is doing, we need to understand it across the board."

The researchers analyzed samples from water heaters in all 50 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, and found evidence of microbes in about half of the homes. They reported their findings online in the journal Extremophiles.

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