Archaeons are single celled anaerobic microorganisms that live in the outflow of geothermal vents in the deep sea. These vents, which result from volcanic activity, are low in oxygen, highly pressurized and can be close to boiling, sometimes reaching 95 C.
A dutch research team led by Martin Liebensteiner has recently shown that one of the most common achaeons, Archaeoglobus Fulgidus, is able to survive and grow by reducing chlorate and perchlorates, chemicals not usually found in their natural habitat. Perchlorate in particular, is a chemical found in among others fireworks and rocket fuel.
A few species of bacteria have previously been discovered with the same ability as A. Fulgidus, but they reduce the chlorate in a different manner. The bacteria split the chemical into chlorite during metabolism (and then further into chloride and oxygen), but the archaeon lacks the necessary enzyme to do so. Instead, a series of reactions involving sulfur compounds breaks down the chemical. No oxygen is produced during this reaction, which is good for A. Fulgidus, since oxygen is poisonous to it.
The importance of the finding is that Liebensteinier believes the first organisms to evolve on earth were similar to archaeons, and likely had the same reducing ability for chlorate and perchlorate. Their existence may have prevented buildups of those chemicals in the atmosphere long before life similar to what we see today came about.