Several severe glaciations occurred during the Neoproterozoic eon, and especially near its end in the Cryogenian period (630–850 Ma). While the glacial periods themselves were probably related to the continental positions being appropriate for glaciation, the general coldness of the Neoproterozoic and Cryogenian as a whole lacks specific explanation. The Cryogenian was immediately followed by the Ediacaran biota and Cambrian Metazoan, thus understanding the climate-biosphere interactions around the Cryogenian period is central to understanding the development of complex multicellular life in general. Here we present a feedback mechanism between growth of eukaryotic algal phytoplankton and climate which explains how the Earth system gradually entered the Cryogenian icehouse from the warm Mesoproterozoic greenhouse. The more abrupt termination of the Cryogenian is explained by the increase in gaseous carbon release caused by the more complex planktonic and benthic foodwebs and enhanced by a diversification of metazoan zooplankton and benthic animals. The increased ecosystem complexity caused a decrease in organic carbon burial rate, breaking the algal-climatic feedback loop of the earlier Neoproterozoic eon. Prior to the Neoproterozoic eon, eukaryotic evolution took place in a slow timescale regulated by interior cooling of the Earth and solar brightening. Evolution could have proceeded faster had these geophysical processes been faster. Thus, complex life could theoretically also be found around stars that are more massive than the Sun and have main sequence life shorter than 10 Ga. We also suggest that snow and glaciers are, in a statistical sense, important markers for conditions that may possibly promote the development of complex life on extrasolar planets.
Photocatalytic oxidation of nucleic acid components on aqueous metal oxides (TiO2, α-FeOOH, and α-Fe2O3) has been studied. The oxidation of purine nucleotides results in the formation of the purine radical cations and sugar-phosphate radicals, whereas the oxidation of pyrimidine nucleotides other than thymine results in the oxidation of only the sugar-phosphate. The oxidation of the thymine (and to a far less extent for the 5-methylcytosine) derivatives results in deprotonation from the methyl group of the base. Some single stranded (ss) oligoribonucleotides and wild-type ss RNA were oxidized at purine sites. In contrast, double stranded (ds) oligoribonucleotides and DNA were not oxidized. These results account for observations suggesting that cellular ds DNA is not damaged by exposure to photoirradiated TiO2 nanoparticles inserted into the cell, whereas ss RNA is extensively damaged. The astrobiological import of our observations is that the rapid degradation of monomer nucleotides make them poor targets as biosignatures, whereas duplex DNA is a better target as it is resilient to oxidative diagenesis. Another import of our studies is that ds DNA (as opposed to ss RNA) appears to be optimized to withstand oxidative stress both due to the advantageous polymer morphology and the subtle details of its radical chemistry. This peculiarity may account for the preference for DNA over RNA as a “molecule of life” provided that metal oxides served as the template for synthesis of polynucleotides, as suggested by Orgel and others.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astrobiology Institute (NAI) conducted two “Workshops Without Walls” during 2010 that enabled global scientific exchange—with no travel required. The second of these was on the topic “Molecular Paleontology and Resurrection: Rewinding the Tape of Life.” Scientists from diverse disciplines and locations around the world were joined through an integrated suite of collaborative technologies to exchange information on the latest developments in this area of origin of life research. Through social media outlets and popular science blogs, participation in the workshop was broadened to include educators, science writers, and members of the general public. In total, over 560 people from 31 US states and 30 other nations were registered. Among the scientific disciplines represented were geochemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and evolution, and microbial ecology. We present this workshop as a case study in how interdisciplinary collaborative research may be fostered, with substantial public engagement, without sustaining the deleterious environmental and economic impacts of travel.
Evidence for the widespread occurrence of extraterrestrial halite, particularly on Mars, has led to speculations on the possibility of halophilic microbial forms of life; these ideas have been strengthened by reports of viable haloarchaea from sediments of geological age (millions of years). Raman spectroscopy, being a sensitive detection method for future astrobiological investigations onsite, has been used in the current study for the detection of nine different extremely halophilic archaeal strains which had been embedded in laboratory-made halite crystals in order to simulate evaporitic conditions. The cells accumulated preferentially in tiny fluid inclusions, in simulation of the precipitation of salt in natural brines. FT-Raman spectroscopy using laser excitation at 1064 nm and dispersive micro Raman spectroscopy at 514.5 nm were applied. The spectra showed prominent peaks at 1507, 1152 and 1002 cm−1 which are attributed to haloarchaeal C50 carotenoid compounds (mainly bacterioruberins). Their intensity varied from strain to strain at 1064-nm laser excitation. Other distinguishable features were peaks due to peptide bonds (amide I, amide III) and to nucleic acids. No evidence for fatty acids was detected, consistent with their general absence in all archaea.
These results contribute to a growing database on Raman spectra of terrestrial microorganisms from hypersaline environments and highlight the influence of the different macromolecular composition of diverse strains on these spectra.
Raman spectroscopy; extremely halophilic archaea; halite; astrobiology; fluid inclusions; carotenoids; bacterioruberins; Martian subsurface
Although it has been notoriously difficult to pin down precisely what is it that makes life so distinctive and remarkable, there is general agreement that its informational aspect is one key property, perhaps the key property. The unique informational narrative of living systems suggests that life may be characterized by context-dependent causal influences, and, in particular, that top-down (or downward) causation—where higher levels influence and constrain the dynamics of lower levels in organizational hierarchies—may be a major contributor to the hierarchal structure of living systems. Here, we propose that the emergence of life may correspond to a physical transition associated with a shift in the causal structure, where information gains direct and context-dependent causal efficacy over the matter in which it is instantiated. Such a transition may be akin to more traditional physical transitions (e.g. thermodynamic phase transitions), with the crucial distinction that determining which phase (non-life or life) a given system is in requires dynamical information and therefore can only be inferred by identifying causal architecture. We discuss some novel research directions based on this hypothesis, including potential measures of such a transition that may be amenable to laboratory study, and how the proposed mechanism corresponds to the onset of the unique mode of (algorithmic) information processing characteristic of living systems.
origins of life; emergence; astrobiology; top-down causation
Understanding biotic versus abiotic forces that shape community structure is a fundamental aim of microbial ecology. The acidic and heavy metal extreme Río Tinto (RT) in southwestern Spain provides a rare opportunity to conduct an ecosystem-wide biodiversity inventory at the level of all three domains of life, because diversity there is low and almost exclusively microbial. Despite improvements in high-throughput DNA sequencing, environmental biodiversity studies that use molecular metrics and consider entire ecosystems are rare. These studies can be prohibitively expensive if domains are considered separately, and differences in copy number of eukaryotic ribosomal RNA genes can bias estimates of relative abundances of phylotypes recovered. In this study we have overcome these barriers (1) by targeting all three domains in a single polymerase chain reaction amplification and (2) by using a replicated sampling design that allows for incidence-based methods to extract measures of richness and carry out downstream analyses that address community structuring effects. Our work showed that combined bacterial and archaeal richness is an order of magnitude higher than eukaryotic richness. We also found that eukaryotic richness was highest at the most extreme sites, whereas combined bacterial and archaeal richness was highest at less extreme sites. Quantitative community phylogenetics showed abiotic forces to be primarily responsible for shaping the RT community structure. Canonical correspondence analysis revealed co-occurrence of obligate symbionts and their putative hosts that may contribute to biotic forces shaping community structure and may further provide a possible mechanism for persistence of certain low-abundance bacteria encountered in the RT.
community phylogenetics, astrobiology, CCA
The ultimate survival of humanity is dependent upon colonization of other planetary bodies. Key challenges to such habitation are (patho)physiologic changes induced by known, and unknown, factors associated with long-duration and distance space exploration. However, we currently lack biological models for detecting and studying these changes. Here, we use a remote automated culture system to successfully grow an animal in low Earth orbit for six months. Our observations, over 12 generations, demonstrate that the multi-cellular soil worm Caenorhabditis elegans develops from egg to adulthood and produces progeny with identical timings in space as on the Earth. Additionally, these animals display normal rates of movement when fully fed, comparable declines in movement when starved, and appropriate growth arrest upon starvation and recovery upon re-feeding. These observations establish C. elegans as a biological model that can be used to detect changes in animal growth, development, reproduction and behaviour in response to environmental conditions during long-duration spaceflight. This experimental system is ready to be incorporated on future, unmanned interplanetary missions and could be used to study cost-effectively the effects of such missions on these biological processes and the efficacy of new life support systems and radiation shielding technologies.
Caenorhabditis elegans; spaceflight; astrobiology; interplanetary transfer
Traveling, living and working in space is now a reality. The number of people and length of time in space is increasing. With new horizons for exploration it becomes more important to fully understand and provide countermeasures to the effects of the space environment on the human body. In addition, space provides a unique laboratory to study how life and physiologic functions adapt from the cellular level to that of the entire organism. Caenorhabditis elegans is a genetic model organism used to study physiology on Earth. Here we provide a description of the rationale, design, methods, and space culture validation of the ICE-FIRST payload, which engaged C. elegans researchers from four nations. Here we also show C. elegans growth and development proceeds essentially normally in a chemically defined liquid medium on board the International Space Station (10.9 day round trip). By setting flight constraints first and bringing together established C. elegans researchers second, we were able to use minimal stowage space to successfully return a total of 53 independent samples, each containing more than a hundred individual animals, to investigators within one year of experiment concept. We believe that in the future, bringing together individuals with knowledge of flight experiment operations, flight hardware, space biology, and genetic model organisms should yield similarly successful payloads.
Caenorhabditis elegans; Spaceflight; Development; Axenic culture; Astrobiology
The study of the origin of life covers many areas of expertise and requires
the input of various scientific communities. In recent years, this research
field has often been viewed as part of a broader agenda under the name of
“exobiology” or “astrobiology.” In this review,
we have somewhat narrowed this agenda, focusing on the origin of modern terrestrial
life. The adjective “modern” here means that we did not speculate
on different forms of life that could have possibly appeared on our planet,
but instead focus on the existing forms (cells and viruses). We try to briefly
present the state of the art about alternative hypotheses discussing not only
the origin of life per se, but also how life evolved
to produce the modern biosphere through a succession of steps that we would
like to characterize as much as possible.
There is no generally accepted value for the lower temperature limit for life on Earth. We present empirical evidence that free-living microbial cells cooling in the presence of external ice will undergo freeze-induced desiccation and a glass transition (vitrification) at a temperature between −10°C and −26°C. In contrast to intracellular freezing, vitrification does not result in death and cells may survive very low temperatures once vitrified. The high internal viscosity following vitrification means that diffusion of oxygen and metabolites is slowed to such an extent that cellular metabolism ceases. The temperature range for intracellular vitrification makes this a process of fundamental ecological significance for free-living microbes. It is only where extracellular ice is not present that cells can continue to metabolise below these temperatures, and water droplets in clouds provide an important example of such a habitat. In multicellular organisms the cells are isolated from ice in the environment, and the major factor dictating how they respond to low temperature is the physical state of the extracellular fluid. Where this fluid freezes, then the cells will dehydrate and vitrify in a manner analogous to free-living microbes. Where the extracellular fluid undercools then cells can continue to metabolise, albeit slowly, to temperatures below the vitrification temperature of free-living microbes. Evidence suggests that these cells do also eventually vitrify, but at lower temperatures that may be below −50°C. Since cells must return to a fluid state to resume metabolism and complete their life cycle, and ice is almost universally present in environments at sub-zero temperatures, we propose that the vitrification temperature represents a general lower thermal limit to life on Earth, though its precise value differs between unicellular (typically above −20°C) and multicellular organisms (typically below −20°C). Few multicellular organisms can, however, complete their life cycle at temperatures below ∼−2°C.
We have detected a concentration of boron in martian clay far in excess of that in any previously reported extra-terrestrial object. This enrichment indicates that the chemistry necessary for the formation of ribose, a key component of RNA, could have existed on Mars since the formation of early clay deposits, contemporary to the emergence of life on Earth. Given the greater similarity of Earth and Mars early in their geological history, and the extensive disruption of Earth's earliest mineralogy by plate tectonics, we suggest that the conditions for prebiotic ribose synthesis may be better understood by further Mars exploration.
We introduce the concept of metaconsensus and employ it to make high confidence predictions of early enzyme functions and the metabolic properties that they may have produced. Several independent studies have used comparative bioinformatics methods to identify taxonomically broad features of genomic sequence data, protein structure data, and metabolic pathway data in order to predict physiological features that were present in early, ancestral life forms. But all such methods carry with them some level of technical bias. Here, we cross-reference the results of these previous studies to determine enzyme functions predicted to be ancient by multiple methods. We survey modern metabolic pathways to identify those that maintain the highest frequency of metaconsensus enzymes. Using the full set of modern reactions catalyzed by these metaconsensus enzyme functions, we reconstruct a representative metabolic network that may reflect the core metabolism of early life forms. Our results show that ten enzyme functions, four hydrolases, three transferases, one oxidoreductase, one lyase, and one ligase, are determined by metaconsensus to be present at least as late as the last universal common ancestor. Subnetworks within central metabolic processes related to sugar and starch metabolism, amino acid biosynthesis, phospholipid metabolism, and CoA biosynthesis, have high frequencies of these enzyme functions. We demonstrate that a large metabolic network can be generated from this small number of enzyme functions.
Bone is a complex dynamic tissue undergoing a continuous remodeling process. Gravity is a physical force playing a role in the remodeling and contributing to the maintenance of bone integrity. This article reports an investigation on the alterations of the bone microarchitecture that occurred in wild type (Wt) and pleiotrophin-transgenic (PTN-Tg) mice exposed to a near-zero gravity on the International Space Station (ISS) during the Mice Drawer System (MDS) mission, to date, the longest mice permanence (91 days) in space. The transgenic mouse strain over-expressing pleiotrophin (PTN) in bone was selected because of the PTN positive effects on bone turnover. Wt and PTN-Tg control animals were maintained on Earth either in a MDS payload or in a standard vivarium cage. This study revealed a bone loss during spaceflight in the weight-bearing bones of both strains. For both Tg and Wt a decrease of the trabecular number as well as an increase of the mean trabecular separation was observed after flight, whereas trabecular thickness did not show any significant change. Non weight-bearing bones were not affected. The PTN-Tg mice exposed to normal gravity presented a poorer trabecular organization than Wt mice, but interestingly, the expression of the PTN transgene during the flight resulted in some protection against microgravity’s negative effects. Moreover, osteocytes of the Wt mice, but not of Tg mice, acquired a round shape, thus showing for the first time osteocyte space-related morphological alterations in vivo. The analysis of specific bone formation and resorption marker expression suggested that the microgravity-induced bone loss was due to both an increased bone resorption and a decreased bone deposition. Apparently, the PTN transgene protection was the result of a higher osteoblast activity in the flight mice.
pGIAK1 is a 38-kb plasmid originating from the obligate alkaliphilic and halotolerant Bacillaceae strain JMAK1. The strain was originally isolated from the confined environments of the Antarctic Concordia station. Analysis of the pGIAK1 38,362-bp sequence revealed that, in addition to its replication region, this plasmid contains the genetic determinants for cadmium and arsenic resistances, putative methyltransferase, tyrosine recombinase, spore coat protein and potassium transport protein, as well as several hypothetical proteins. Cloning the pGIAK1 cad operon in Bacillus cereus H3081.97 and its ars operon in Bacillus subtilis 1A280 conferred to these hosts cadmium and arsenic resistances, respectively, therefore confirming their bona fide activities. The pGIAK1 replicon region was also shown to be functional in Bacillus thuringiensis, Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus, but was only stably maintained in B. subtilis. Finally, using an Escherichia coli - B. thuringiensis shuttle BAC vector, pGIAK1 was shown to display conjugative properties since it was able to transfer the BAC plasmid among B. thuringiensis strains.
The genetic code shapes the genetic repository. Its origin has puzzled molecular scientists for over half a century and remains a long-standing mystery. Here we show that the origin of the genetic code is tightly coupled to the history of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase enzymes and their interactions with tRNA. A timeline of evolutionary appearance of protein domain families derived from a structural census in hundreds of genomes reveals the early emergence of the ‘operational’ RNA code and the late implementation of the standard genetic code. The emergence of codon specificities and amino acid charging involved tight coevolution of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases and tRNA structures as well as episodes of structural recruitment. Remarkably, amino acid and dipeptide compositions of single-domain proteins appearing before the standard code suggest archaic synthetases with structures homologous to catalytic domains of tyrosyl-tRNA and seryl-tRNA synthetases were capable of peptide bond formation and aminoacylation. Results reveal that genetics arose through coevolutionary interactions between polypeptides and nucleic acid cofactors as an exacting mechanism that favored flexibility and folding of the emergent proteins. These enhancements of phenotypic robustness were likely internalized into the emerging genetic system with the early rise of modern protein structure.
Recent evidence has implicated single-stranded DNA-binding protein (SSB) expression level as an important factor in microbial radiation resistance. The genome of the extremely radiation resistant bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans contains genes for two SSB homologs: the homodimeric, canonical Ssb, encoded by the gene ssb, and a novel pentameric protein encoded by the gene ddrB. ddrB is highly induced upon exposure to radiation, and deletions result in decreased radiation-resistance, suggesting an integral role of the protein in the extreme resistance exhibited by this organism. Although expression of ssb is also induced after irradiation, Ssb is thought to be involved primarily in replication. In this study, we demonstrate that Ssb in D. radiodurans is essential for cell survival. The lethality of an ssb deletion cannot be complemented by providing ddrB in trans. In addition, the radiation-sensitive phenotype conferred by a ddrB deletion is not alleviated by providing ssb in trans. By altering expression of the ssb gene, we also show that lower levels of transcription are required for optimal growth than are necessary for high radiation resistance. When expression is reduced to that of E. coli, ionizing radiation resistance is similarly reduced. UV resistance is also decreased under low ssb transcript levels where growth is unimpaired. These results indicate that the expression of ssb is a key component of both normal cellular metabolism as well as pathways responsible for the high radiation tolerance of D. radiodurans.
Spaceflight is associated with several health issues including diminished immune efficiency. Effects of long-term spaceflight on selected immune parameters of wild type (Wt) and transgenic mice over-expressing pleiotrophin under the human bone-specific osteocalcin promoter (PTN-Tg) were examined using the novel Mouse Drawer System (MDS) aboard the International Space Station (ISS) over a 91 day period. Effects of this long duration flight on PTN-Tg and Wt mice were determined in comparison to ground controls and vivarium-housed PTN-Tg and Wt mice. Levels of interleukin-2 (IL-2) and transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-β1) were measured in mucosal and systemic tissues of Wt and PTN-Tg mice. Colonic contents were also analyzed to assess potential effects on the gut microbiota, although no firm conclusions could be made due to constraints imposed by the MDS payload and the time of sampling. Spaceflight-associated differences were observed in colonic tissue and systemic lymph node levels of IL-2 and TGF-β1 relative to ground controls. Total colonic TGF-β1 levels were lower in Wt and PTN-Tg flight mice in comparison to ground controls. The Wt flight mouse had lower levels of IL-2 and TGF-β1 compared to the Wt ground control in both the inguinal and brachial lymph nodes, however this pattern was not consistently observed in PTN-Tg mice. Vivarium-housed Wt controls had higher levels of active TGF-β1 and IL-2 in inguinal lymph nodes relative to PTN-Tg mice. The results of this study suggest compartmentalized effects of spaceflight and on immune parameters in mice.
The Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB) hosts one of the world’s largest accumulations of acidic mine wastes and pit lakes. The mineralogical and textural characteristics of the IPB ores have favored the oxidation and dissolution of metallic sulfides, mainly pyrite, and the subsequent formation of acidic mining drainages. This work reports the physical properties, hydrogeochemical characteristics, and microbial diversity of two pit lakes located in the IPB. Both pit lakes are acidic and showed high concentrations of sulfate and dissolved metals. Concentrations of sulfate and heavy metals were higher in the Nuestra Señora del Carmen lake (NSC) by one order of magnitude than in the Concepción (CN) lake. The hydrochemical characteristics of NSC were typical of acid mine waters and can be compared with other acidic environments. When compared to other IPB acidic pit lakes, the superficial water of CN is more diluted than that of any of the others due, probably, to the strong influence of runoff water. Both pit lakes showed chemical and thermal stratification with well defined chemoclines. One particular characteristic of NSC is that it has developed a chemocline very close to the surface (2 m depth). Microbial community composition of the water column was analyzed by 16S and 18S rRNA gene cloning and sequencing. The microorganisms detected in NSC were characteristic of acid mine drainage (AMD), including iron oxidizing bacteria (Leptospirillum, Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans) and facultative iron reducing bacteria and archaea (Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, Acidiphilium, Actinobacteria, Acidimicrobiales, Ferroplasma) detected in the bottom layer. Diversity in CN was higher than in NSC. Microorganisms known from AMD systems (Acidiphilium, Acidobacteria and Ferrovum) and microorganisms never reported from AMD systems were identified. Taking into consideration the hydrochemical characteristics of these pit lakes and the spatial distribution of the identified microorganisms, a model explaining their geomicrobiology is advanced.
ADP-dependent glucokinases represent a unique family of kinases that belong to the ribokinase superfamily, being present mainly in hyperthermophilic archaea. For these enzymes there is no agreement about the magnitude of the structural transitions associated with ligand binding and whether they are meaningful to the function of the enzyme. We used the ADP-dependent glucokinase from Termococcus litoralis as a model to investigate the conformational changes observed in X-ray crystallographic structures upon substrate binding and to compare them with those determined in solution in order to understand their interplay with the glucokinase function. Initial velocity studies indicate that catalysis follows a sequential ordered mechanism that correlates with the structural transitions experienced by the enzyme in solution and in the crystal state. The combined data allowed us to resolve the open-closed conformational transition that accounts for the complete reaction cycle and to identify the corresponding clusters of aminoacids residues responsible for it. These results provide molecular bases for a general mechanism conserved across the ADP-dependent kinase family.
Bacterial bioluminescence is commonly found in the deep sea and depends on environmental conditions. Photobacterium phosphoreum ANT-2200 has been isolated from the NW Mediterranean Sea at 2200-m depth (in situ temperature of 13°C) close to the ANTARES neutrino telescope. The effects of hydrostatic pressure on its growth and luminescence have been investigated under controlled laboratory conditions, using a specifically developed high-pressure bioluminescence system. The growth rate and the maximum population density of the strain were determined at different temperatures (from 4 to 37°C) and pressures (from 0.1 to 40 MPa), using the logistic model to define these two growth parameters. Indeed, using the growth rate only, no optimal temperature and pressure could be determined. However, when both growth rate and maximum population density were jointly taken into account, a cross coefficient was calculated. By this way, the optimum growth conditions for P. phosphoreum ANT-2200 were found to be 30°C and, 10 MPa defining this strain as mesophile and moderately piezophile. Moreover, the ratio of unsaturated vs. saturated cellular fatty acids was found higher at 22 MPa, in agreement with previously described piezophile strains. P. phosphoreum ANT-2200 also appeared to respond to high pressure by forming cell aggregates. Its maximum population density was 1.2 times higher, with a similar growth rate, than at 0.1 MPa. Strain ANT-2200 grown at 22 MPa produced 3 times more bioluminescence. The proposed approach, mimicking, as close as possible, the in situ conditions, could help studying deep-sea bacterial bioluminescence and validating hypotheses concerning its role into the carbon cycle in the deep ocean.
The spores of several Bacillus species, including Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 and B. safensis FO-36b, which were isolated from the spacecraft assembly facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, are unusually resistant to UV radiation and hydrogen peroxide. In order to identify candidate genes that might be associated with these resistances, the whole genome of B. pumilus SAFR-032, and the draft genome of B. safensis FO-36b were compared in detail with the very closely related type strain B. pumilus ATCC7061T. 170 genes are considered characteristic of SAFR-032, because they are absent from both FO-36b and ATCC7061T. Forty of these SAFR-032 characteristic genes are entirely unique open reading frames. In addition, four genes are unique to the genomes of the resistant SAFR-032 and FO-36b. Fifty three genes involved in spore coat formation, regulation and germination, DNA repair, and peroxide resistance, are missing from all three genomes. The vast majority of these are cleanly deleted from their usual genomic context without any obvious replacement. Several DNA repair and peroxide resistance genes earlier reported to be unique to SAFR-032 are in fact shared with ATCC7061T and no longer considered to be promising candidates for association with the elevated resistances. Instead, several SAFR-032 characteristic genes were identified, which along with one or more of the unique SAFR-032 genes may be responsible for the elevated resistances. These new candidates include five genes associated with DNA repair, namely, BPUM_0608 a helicase, BPUM_0652 an ATP binding protein, BPUM_0653 an endonuclease, BPUM_0656 a DNA cytosine-5- methyltransferase, and BPUM_3674 a DNA helicase. Three of these candidate genes are in immediate proximity of two conserved hypothetical proteins, BPUM_0654 and BPUM_0655 that are also absent from both FO-36b and ATCC7061T. This cluster of five genes is considered to be an especially promising target for future experimental work.
In this work we characterize an alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) from the hyperthermophilic archaeon Pyrobaculum aerophilum (PyAeADHII). We have previously found that PyAeADHII has no activity when standard ADH substrates are used but is active when α-tetralone is used as substrate. Here, to gain insights into enzyme function, we screened several chemical libraries for enzymatic modulators using an assay employing α-tetralone. The results indicate that PyAeADHII activity in the presence of α-tetralone was inhibited by compounds such as flunarizine. We also examined metal coordination of the enzyme in solution by performing metal substitution of the enzyme-bound zinc (Zn2+) with cobalt. The solution-based absorption spectra for cobalt substituted PyAeADHII supports substitution at the structural Zn2+ site. To gain structural insight, we obtained the crystal structure of both wild-type and cobalt-substituted PyAeADHII at 1.75 Å and 2.20 Å resolution, respectively. The X-ray data confirmed one metal ion per monomer present only at the structural site with otherwise close conservation to other ADH enzymes. We next determined the co-crystal structure of the NADPH-bound form of the enzyme at 2.35 Å resolution to help define the active site region of the enzyme and this data shows close structural conservation with horse ADH, despite the lack of a catalytic Zn2+ ion in PyAeADHII. Modeling of α-tetralone into the NADPH bound structure suggests an arginine as a possible catalytic residue. The data presented here can yield a better understanding of alcohol dehydrogenases lacking the catalytic zinc as well as the structural features inherent to thermostable enzymes.
Extremophiles are the microorganisms which can survive under extreme conditions of temperature, pressure, pH, salinity etc. They have gained much attention for their potential role in biotechnological and industrial applications. The large amount of experimental data in the literature is so diverse, that it becomes difficult and time consuming for the researcher to implement it in various areas of research. Therefore, a systematic arrangement of data and redirection in a similar fashion through web interface can assist researchers in analyzing the data as per their requirement. ExtremeDB is a freely available web based relational database which integrates general characteristics, genome-proteome information, industrial applications and recent scientific investigations of the seven major groups of 865 extremophillic microorganisms. The search options are user friendly and analyses tools such as Compare and Extreme BLAST have been incorporated for comparative analysis of two or more extremophiles and determining the sequence similarity of a given protein/nucleotide in relation to other extremophiles respectively. The effort put forth herein in the form of database, would open up new avenues on the potential utility of extremophiles in applied research. ExtremeDB is freely accessible via http://extrem.igib.res.in.
Space missions have enabled testing how microorganisms, animals and plants respond to extra-terrestrial, complex and hazardous environment in space. Photosynthetic organisms are thought to be relatively more prone to microgravity, weak magnetic field and cosmic radiation because oxygenic photosynthesis is intimately associated with capture and conversion of light energy into chemical energy, a process that has adapted to relatively less complex and contained environment on Earth. To study the direct effect of the space environment on the fundamental process of photosynthesis, we sent into low Earth orbit space engineered and mutated strains of the unicellular green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which has been widely used as a model of photosynthetic organisms. The algal mutants contained specific amino acid substitutions in the functionally important regions of the pivotal Photosystem II (PSII) reaction centre D1 protein near the QB binding pocket and in the environment surrounding Tyr-161 (YZ) electron acceptor of the oxygen-evolving complex. Using real-time measurements of PSII photochemistry, here we show that during the space flight while the control strain and two D1 mutants (A250L and V160A) were inefficient in carrying out PSII activity, two other D1 mutants, I163N and A251C, performed efficient photosynthesis, and actively re-grew upon return to Earth. Mimicking the neutron irradiation component of cosmic rays on Earth yielded similar results. Experiments with I163N and A251C D1 mutants performed on ground showed that they are better able to modulate PSII excitation pressure and have higher capacity to reoxidize the QA− state of the primary electron acceptor. These results highlight the contribution of D1 conformation in relation to photosynthesis and oxygen production in space.
Microbial populations inhabiting a natural hypersaline lake ecosystem in Lake Tyrrell, Victoria, Australia, have been characterized using deep metagenomic sampling, iterative de novo assembly, and multidimensional phylogenetic binning. Composite genomes representing habitat-specific microbial populations were reconstructed for eleven different archaea and one bacterium, comprising between 0.6 and 14.1% of the planktonic community. Eight of the eleven archaeal genomes were from microbial species without previously cultured representatives. These new genomes provide habitat-specific reference sequences enabling detailed, lineage-specific compartmentalization of predicted functional capabilities and cellular properties associated with both dominant and less abundant community members, including organisms previously known only by their 16S rRNA sequences. Together, these data provide a comprehensive, culture-independent genomic blueprint for ecosystem-wide analysis of protein functions, population structure, and lifestyles of co-existing, co-evolving microbial groups within the same natural habitat. The “assembly-driven” community genomic approach demonstrated in this study advances our ability to push beyond single gene investigations, and promotes genome-scale reconstructions as a tangible goal in the quest to define the metabolic, ecological, and evolutionary dynamics that underpin environmental microbial diversity.