Nature Reviews Microbiology 11, 83-94 (February 2013) | doi:10.1038/nrmicro2939

Microbial life under extreme energy limitation

Tori M. Hoehler1,3 & Bo Barker Jørgensen2,3  About the authors


A great number of the bacteria and archaea on Earth are found in subsurface environments in a physiological state that is poorly represented or explained by laboratory cultures. Microbial cells in these very stable and oligotrophic settings catabolize 104- to 106-fold more slowly than model organisms in nutrient-rich cultures, turn over biomass on timescales of centuries to millennia rather than hours to days, and subsist with energy fluxes that are 1,000-fold lower than the typical culture-based estimates of maintenance requirements. To reconcile this disparate state of being with our knowledge of microbial physiology will require a revised understanding of microbial energy requirements, including identifying the factors that comprise true basal maintenance and the adaptations that might serve to minimize these factors.

Author affiliations

  1. NASA Ames Research Center, Mail Stop 2394, Moffett Field, California 94035-1000, USA.
  2. Center for Geomicrobiology, Institute of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Ny Munkegade 114, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.
  3. The authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to: Tori M. Hoehler1,3 Email:

Published online 16 January 2013