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J Bacteriol. 1996 February; 178(3): 591–599.
PMCID: PMC177699

Characterization of uncultivated prokaryotes: isolation and analysis of a 40-kilobase-pair genome fragment from a planktonic marine archaeon.


One potential approach for characterizing uncultivated prokaryotes from natural assemblages involves genomic analysis of DNA fragments retrieved directly from naturally occurring microbial biomass. In this study, we sought to isolate large genomic fragments from a widely distributed and relatively abundant but as yet uncultivated group of prokaryotes, the planktonic marine Archaea. A fosmid DNA library was prepared from a marine picoplankton assemblage collected at a depth of 200 m in the eastern North Pacific. We identified a 38.5-kbp recombinant fosmid clone which contained an archaeal small subunit ribosomal DNA gene. Phylogenetic analyses of the small subunit rRNA sequence demonstrated it close relationship to that of previously described planktonic archaea, which form a coherent group rooted deeply within the Crenarchaeota branch of the domain Archaea. Random shotgun sequencing of subcloned fragments of the archaeal fosmid clone revealed several genes which bore highest similarity to archaeal homologs, including large subunit ribosomal DNA and translation elongation factor 2 (EF2). Analyses of the inferred amino acid sequence of archaeoplankton EF2 supported its affiliation with the Crenarchaeote subdivision of Archaea. Two gene fragments encoding proteins not previously found in Archaea were also identified: RNA helicase, responsible for the ATP-dependent alteration of RNA secondary structure, and glutamate semialdehyde aminotransferase, an enzyme involved in initial steps of heme biosynthesis. In total, our results indicate that genomic analysis of large DNA fragments retrieved from mixed microbial assemblages can provide useful perspective on the physiological potential of abundant but as yet uncultivated prokaryotes.

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