What The Bugs Can Do For You

The discovery that life can thrive under horrific conditions is a major scientific advance. But it could also turn out to be hugely profitable. Extremophiles survive by manufacturing all sorts of novel molecules. Some digest harsh chemicals; some protect DNA against destruction by radiation; some stave off searing heat or freezing cold. Entrepreneurs are racing to turn these molecules into products, just as was done in the 1980s with Thermus aquaticus, the Yellowstone bug exploited in the PCR technique widely used today to analyze DNA.

San Diego-based Diversa Corp. is one of the most active prospectors. The company has searched for...

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