Though each species is specialized and has its own niche, such as eating proteins or sugars, they come together and trade chunks of DNA, some as long as 35,000 letters of code, a team led by Rick Cavicchioli, a microbiologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, discovered.
"Our research shows these (haloarchaea) swap much more genetic material with each other than has been observed in the natural environment before. Long stretches of virtually identical DNA are exchanged between different genera, not just species," Cavicchioli said in a statement. "Despite this rampant gene swapping, the different species are maintained and can co-exist because they have evolved to exploit different niches and consume different food sources." (Genus is the classification above species.)
Another consequence of life in the cold zone is slowed reproduction. The lake haloarchaea reproduce only six times a year, the researchers found.
Cold-loving extremophiles also live in permafrost, or permanently frozen ground, and in lakes buried beneath Antarctica's ice sheet. Microbes also happily make their home within the ice sheet itself.