Photo/IllutrationOne type of bacteria is illuminated (Provided by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology)

Japanese researchers reported the existence of a microorganism that defies conventional understanding of what constitutes life, a discovery that is being hailed as mind-boggling.

The bacteria discovered in California by a team led by Shino Suzuki, a senior researcher at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, has no obvious mechanism to keep it alive.

It thrives in a particularly harsh environment, hot springs with high alkalinity, conditions that are thought to have been the norm on Earth 4 billion years ago when the planet was still very young.

Further study could shed light on the very origin of life on Earth, the researchers said.

The results of the study were published in a British science journal July 21.

The team looked for living organisms within hot springs in California in a geological setting linked to the Earth's mantle. They came up with the genes of 27 types of microorganisms.

One bacteria found did not have any genes to obtain the energy needed for life-support, such as relying on oxygen. While it is unclear how that microorganism managed to survive, there is the possibility it might have directly obtained electrons from the surrounding rock formation or that it might have had some still unknown gene that allowed it to live.

With only about 400 genes, the bacteria has the smallest number of genes among living organisms, with the exception of those that survive by depending on the cell of another living organism.

The unusual nature of the microorganism led Suzuki to say its structure goes beyond what scientists had ever imagined.