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1.  The core and unique proteins of haloarchaea 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:39.
Since the first genome of a halophilic archaeon was sequenced in 2000, biologists have been advancing the understanding of genomic characteristics that allow for survival in the harsh natural environments of these organisms. An increase in protein acidity and GC-bias in the genome have been implicated as factors in tolerance to extreme salinity, desiccation, and high solar radiation. However, few previous attempts have been made to identify novel genes that would permit survival in such extreme conditions.
With the recent release of several new complete haloarchaeal genome sequences, we have conducted a comprehensive comparative genomic analysis focusing on the identification of unique haloarchaeal conserved proteins that likely play key roles in environmental adaptation. Using bioinformatic methods, we have clustered 31,312 predicted proteins from nine haloarchaeal genomes into 4,455 haloarchaeal orthologous groups (HOGs). We assigned likely functions by association with established COG and KOG databases in NCBI. After identifying homologs in four additional haloarchaeal genomes, we determined that there were 784 core haloarchaeal protein clusters (cHOGs), of which 83 clusters were found primarily in haloarchaea. Further analysis found that 55 clusters were truly unique (tucHOGs) to haloarchaea and qualify as signature proteins while 28 were nearly unique (nucHOGs), the vast majority of which were coded for on the haloarchaeal chromosomes. Of the signature proteins, only one example with any predicted function, Ral, involved in desiccation/radiation tolerance in Halobacterium sp. NRC-1, was identified. Among the core clusters, 33% was predicted to function in metabolism, 25% in information transfer and storage, 10% in cell processes and signaling, and 22% belong to poorly characterized or general function groups.
Our studies have established conserved groups of nearly 800 protein clusters present in all haloarchaea, with a subset of 55 which are predicted to be accessory proteins that may be critical or essential for success in an extreme environment. These studies support core and signature genes and proteins as valuable concepts for understanding phylogenetic and phenotypic characteristics of coherent groups of organisms.
PMCID: PMC3287961  PMID: 22272718
2.  Nitrogen metabolism in haloarchaea 
Saline Systems  2008;4:9.
The nitrogen cycle (N-cycle), principally supported by prokaryotes, involves different redox reactions mainly focused on assimilatory purposes or respiratory processes for energy conservation. As the N-cycle has important environmental implications, this biogeochemical cycle has become a major research topic during the last few years. However, although N-cycle metabolic pathways have been studied extensively in Bacteria or Eukarya, relatively little is known in the Archaea. Halophilic Archaea are the predominant microorganisms in hot and hypersaline environments such as salted lakes, hot springs or salted ponds. Consequently, the denitrifying haloarchaea that sustain the nitrogen cycle under these conditions have emerged as an important target for research aimed at understanding microbial life in these extreme environments.
The haloarchaeon Haloferax mediterranei was isolated 20 years ago from Santa Pola salted ponds (Alicante, Spain). It was described as a denitrifier and it is also able to grow using NO3-, NO2- or NH4+ as inorganic nitrogen sources. This review summarizes the advances that have been made in understanding the N-cycle in halophilic archaea using Hfx mediterranei as a haloarchaeal model. The results obtained show that this microorganism could be very attractive for bioremediation applications in those areas where high salt, nitrate and nitrite concentrations are found in ground waters and soils.
PMCID: PMC2483277  PMID: 18593475
3.  Diversity and evolution of multiple orc/cdc6-adjacent replication origins in haloarchaea 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:478.
While multiple replication origins have been observed in archaea, considerably less is known about their evolutionary processes. Here, we performed a comparative analysis of the predicted (proved in part) orc/cdc6-associated replication origins in 15 completely sequenced haloarchaeal genomes to investigate the diversity and evolution of replication origins in halophilic Archaea.
Multiple orc/cdc6-associated replication origins were predicted in all of the analyzed haloarchaeal genomes following the identification of putative ORBs (origin recognition boxes) that are associated with orc/cdc6 genes. Five of these predicted replication origins in Haloarcula hispanica were experimentally confirmed via autonomous replication activities. Strikingly, several predicted replication origins in H. hispanica and Haloarcula marismortui are located in the distinct regions of their highly homologous chromosomes, suggesting that these replication origins might have been introduced as parts of new genomic content. A comparison of the origin-associated Orc/Cdc6 homologs and the corresponding predicted ORB elements revealed that the replication origins in a given haloarchaeon are quite diverse, while different haloarchaea can share a few conserved origins. Phylogenetic and genomic context analyses suggested that there is an original replication origin (oriC1) that was inherited from the ancestor of archaea, and several other origins were likely evolved and/or translocated within the haloarchaeal species.
This study provides detailed information about the diversity of multiple orc/cdc6-associated replication origins in haloarchaeal genomes, and provides novel insight into the evolution of multiple replication origins in Archaea.
PMCID: PMC3528665  PMID: 22978470
4.  Essential and non-essential DNA replication genes in the model halophilic Archaeon, Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 
BMC Genetics  2007;8:31.
Information transfer systems in Archaea, including many components of the DNA replication machinery, are similar to those found in eukaryotes. Functional assignments of archaeal DNA replication genes have been primarily based upon sequence homology and biochemical studies of replisome components, but few genetic studies have been conducted thus far. We have developed a tractable genetic system for knockout analysis of genes in the model halophilic archaeon, Halobacterium sp. NRC-1, and used it to determine which DNA replication genes are essential.
Using a directed in-frame gene knockout method in Halobacterium sp. NRC-1, we examined nineteen genes predicted to be involved in DNA replication. Preliminary bioinformatic analysis of the large haloarchaeal Orc/Cdc6 family, related to eukaryotic Orc1 and Cdc6, showed five distinct clades of Orc/Cdc6 proteins conserved in all sequenced haloarchaea. Of ten orc/cdc6 genes in Halobacterium sp. NRC-1, only two were found to be essential, orc10, on the large chromosome, and orc2, on the minichromosome, pNRC200. Of the three replicative-type DNA polymerase genes, two were essential: the chromosomally encoded B family, polB1, and the chromosomally encoded euryarchaeal-specific D family, polD1/D2 (formerly called polA1/polA2 in the Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 genome sequence). The pNRC200-encoded B family polymerase, polB2, was non-essential. Accessory genes for DNA replication initiation and elongation factors, including the putative replicative helicase, mcm, the eukaryotic-type DNA primase, pri1/pri2, the DNA polymerase sliding clamp, pcn, and the flap endonuclease, rad2, were all essential. Targeted genes were classified as non-essential if knockouts were obtained and essential based on statistical analysis and/or by demonstrating the inability to isolate chromosomal knockouts except in the presence of a complementing plasmid copy of the gene.
The results showed that ten out of nineteen eukaryotic-type DNA replication genes are essential for Halobacterium sp. NRC-1, consistent with their requirement for DNA replication. The essential genes code for two of ten Orc/Cdc6 proteins, two out of three DNA polymerases, the MCM helicase, two DNA primase subunits, the DNA polymerase sliding clamp, and the flap endonuclease.
PMCID: PMC1906834  PMID: 17559652
5.  Complete genome sequence of Haloterrigena turkmenica type strain (4kT) 
Standards in Genomic Sciences  2010;2(1):107-116.
Haloterrigena turkmenica (Zvyagintseva and Tarasov 1987) Ventosa et al. 1999, comb. nov. is the type species of the genus Haloterrigena in the euryarchaeal family Halobacteriaceae. It is of phylogenetic interest because of the yet unclear position of the genera Haloterrigena and Natrinema within the Halobacteriaceae, which created some taxonomic problems historically. H. turkmenica, was isolated from sulfate saline soil in Turkmenistan, is a relatively fast growing, chemoorganotrophic, carotenoid-containing, extreme halophile, requiring at least 2 M NaCl for growth. Here we describe the features of this organism, together with the complete genome sequence, and annotation. This is the first complete genome sequence of the genus Haloterrigena, but the eighth genome sequence from a member of the family Halobacteriaceae. The 5,440,782 bp genome (including six plasmids) with its 5,287 protein-coding and 63 RNA genes is part of the Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea project.
PMCID: PMC3035258  PMID: 21304683
extreme halophile; thermophile; free-living; aerobic; non-pathogenic; carotenoids-containing; Halobacteriaceae; GEBA
6.  Phylogenetically Driven Sequencing of Extremely Halophilic Archaea Reveals Strategies for Static and Dynamic Osmo-response 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(11):e1004784.
Organisms across the tree of life use a variety of mechanisms to respond to stress-inducing fluctuations in osmotic conditions. Cellular response mechanisms and phenotypes associated with osmoadaptation also play important roles in bacterial virulence, human health, agricultural production and many other biological systems. To improve understanding of osmoadaptive strategies, we have generated 59 high-quality draft genomes for the haloarchaea (a euryarchaeal clade whose members thrive in hypersaline environments and routinely experience drastic changes in environmental salinity) and analyzed these new genomes in combination with those from 21 previously sequenced haloarchaeal isolates. We propose a generalized model for haloarchaeal management of cytoplasmic osmolarity in response to osmotic shifts, where potassium accumulation and sodium expulsion during osmotic upshock are accomplished via secondary transport using the proton gradient as an energy source, and potassium loss during downshock is via a combination of secondary transport and non-specific ion loss through mechanosensitive channels. We also propose new mechanisms for magnesium and chloride accumulation. We describe the expansion and differentiation of haloarchaeal general transcription factor families, including two novel expansions of the TATA-binding protein family, and discuss their potential for enabling rapid adaptation to environmental fluxes. We challenge a recent high-profile proposal regarding the evolutionary origins of the haloarchaea by showing that inclusion of additional genomes significantly reduces support for a proposed large-scale horizontal gene transfer into the ancestral haloarchaeon from the bacterial domain. The combination of broad (17 genera) and deep (≥5 species in four genera) sampling of a phenotypically unified clade has enabled us to uncover both highly conserved and specialized features of osmoadaptation. Finally, we demonstrate the broad utility of such datasets, for metagenomics, improvements to automated gene annotation and investigations of evolutionary processes.
Author Summary
The ability to adjust to changing osmotic conditions (osmoadaptation) is crucial to the survival of organisms across the tree of life. However, significant gaps still exist in our understanding of this important phenomenon. To help fill some of these gaps, we have produced high-quality draft genomes for 59 osmoadaptation “experts” (extreme halophiles of the euryarchaeal family Halobacteriaceae). We describe the dispersal of osmoadaptive protein families across the haloarchaeal evolutionary tree. We use this data to suggest a generalized model for haloarchaeal ion transport in response to changing osmotic conditions, including proposed new mechanisms for magnesium and chloride accumulation. We describe the evolutionary expansion and differentiation of haloarchaeal general transcription factor families and discuss their potential for enabling rapid adaptation to environmental fluxes. Lastly, we challenge a recent high-profile proposal regarding the evolutionary origins of the haloarchaea by showing that inclusion of additional genomes significantly reduces support for a proposed large-scale horizontal gene transfer into the ancestral haloarchaeon from the bacterial domain. This result highlights the power of our dataset for making evolutionary inferences, a feature which will make it useful to the broader evolutionary community. We distribute our genomic dataset through a user-friendly graphical interface.
PMCID: PMC4230888  PMID: 25393412
7.  Experimental Characterization of Cis-Acting Elements Important for Translation and Transcription in Halophilic Archaea 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(12):e229.
The basal transcription apparatus of archaea is well characterized. However, much less is known about the mechanisms of transcription termination and translation initation. Recently, experimental determination of the 5′-ends of ten transcripts from Pyrobaculum aerophilum revealed that these are devoid of a 5′-UTR. Bioinformatic analysis indicated that many transcripts of other archaeal species might also be leaderless. The 5′-ends and 3′-ends of 40 transcripts of two haloarchaeal species, Halobacterium salinarum and Haloferax volcanii, have been determined. They were used to characterize the lengths of 5′-UTRs and 3′-UTRs and to deduce consensus sequence-elements for transcription and translation. The experimental approach was complemented with a bioinformatics analysis of the H. salinarum genome sequence. Furthermore, the influence of selected 5′-UTRs and 3′-UTRs on transcript stability and translational efficiency in vivo was characterized using a newly established reporter gene system, gene fusions, and real-time PCR. Consensus sequences for basal promoter elements could be refined and a novel element was discovered. A consensus motif probably important for transcriptional termination was established. All 40 haloarchaeal transcripts analyzed had a 3′-UTR (average size 57 nt), and their 3′-ends were not posttranscriptionally modified. Experimental data and genome analyses revealed that the majority of haloarchaeal transcripts are leaderless, indicating that this is the predominant mode for translation initiation in haloarchaea. Surprisingly, the 5′-UTRs of most leadered transcripts did not contain a Shine-Dalgarno (SD) sequence. A genome analysis indicated that less than 10% of all genes are preceded by a SD sequence and even most proximal genes in operons lack a SD sequence. Seven different leadered transcripts devoid of a SD sequence were efficiently translated in vivo, including artificial 5′-UTRs of random sequences. Thus, an interaction of the 5′-UTRs of these leadered transcripts with the 16S rRNA could be excluded. Taken together, either a scanning mechanism similar to the mechanism of translation initiation operating in eukaryotes or a novel mechanism must operate on most leadered haloarchaeal transcripts.
Author Summary
Expression of the information encoded in the genome of an organism into its phenotype involves transcription of the DNA into messenger RNAs and translation of mRNAs into proteins. The textbook view is that an mRNA consists of an untranslated region (5′-UTR), an open reading frame encoding the protein, and another untranslated region (3′-UTR). We have determined the 5′-ends and the 3′-ends of 40 mRNAs of two haloarchaeal species and used this dataset to gain information about nucleotide elements important for transcription and translation. Two thirds of the mRNAs were devoid of a 5′-UTR, and therefore the major pathway for translation initiation in haloarchaea involves so-called leaderless transcripts. Very unexpectedly, most leadered mRNAs were found to be devoid of a sequence motif believed to be essential for translation initiation in bacteria and archaea (Shine-Dalgarno sequence). A bioinformatic genome analysis revealed that less than 10% of the genes contain a Shine-Dalgarno sequence. mRNAs lacking this motif were efficiently translated in vivo, including mRNAs with artificial 5′-UTRs of total random sequence. Thus, translation initiation on these mRNAs either involves a scanning mechanism similar to the mechanism operating in eukaryotes or a totally novel mechanism operating at least in haloarchaea.
PMCID: PMC2151090  PMID: 18159946
8.  An Archaeal Chromosomal Autonomously Replicating Sequence Element from an Extreme Halophile, Halobacterium sp. Strain NRC-1 
Journal of Bacteriology  2003;185(20):5959-5966.
We report on the identification and first cloning of an autonomously replicating sequence element from the chromosome of an archaeon, the extreme halophile Halobacterium strain NRC-1. The putative replication origin was identified by association with the orc7 gene and replication ability in the host strain, demonstrated by cloning into a nonreplicating plasmid. Deletion analysis showed that sequences located up to 750 bp upstream of the orc7 gene translational start, plus the orc7 gene and 50 bp downstream, are sufficient to endow the plasmid with replication ability, as judged by expression of a plasmid-encoded mevinolin resistance selectable marker and plasmid recovery after transformation. Sequences located proximal to the two other chromosomally carried haloarchaeal orc genes (orc6 and orc8) are not able to promote efficient autonomous replication. Located within the 750-bp region upstream of orc7 is a nearly perfect inverted repeat of 31 bp, which flanks an extremely AT-rich (44%) stretch of 189 bp. The replication ability of the plasmid was lost when one copy of the inverted repeat was deleted. Additionally, the inverted repeat structure near orc7 homologs in the genomic sequences of two other halophiles, Haloarcula marismortui and Haloferax volcanii, is highly conserved. Our results indicate that, in halophilic archaea, a chromosomal origin of replication is physically linked to orc7 homologs and that this element is sufficient to promote autonomous replication. We discuss the finding of a functional haloarchaeal origin in relation to the large number of orc1-cdc6 homologs identified in the genomes of all haloarchaea to date.
PMCID: PMC225043  PMID: 14526006
9.  Cloning, Characterization and Analysis of cat and ben Genes from the Phenol Degrading Halophilic Bacterium Halomonas organivorans 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e21049.
Extensive use of phenolic compounds in industry has resulted in the generation of saline wastewaters that produce significant environmental contamination; however, little information is available on the degradation of phenolic compounds in saline conditions. Halomonas organivorans G-16.1 (CECT 5995T) is a moderately halophilic bacterium that we isolated in a previous work from saline environments of South Spain by enrichment for growth in different pollutants, including phenolic compounds. PCR amplification with degenerate primers revealed the presence of genes encoding ring-cleaving enzymes of the β-ketoadipate pathway for aromatic catabolism in H. organivorans.
The gene cluster catRBCA, involved in catechol degradation, was isolated from H. organivorans. The genes catA, catB, catC and the divergently transcribed catR code for catechol 1,2-dioxygenase (1,2-CTD), cis,cis-muconate cycloisomerase, muconolactone delta-isomerase and a LysR-type transcriptional regulator, respectively. The benzoate catabolic genes (benA and benB) are located flanking the cat genes. The expression of cat and ben genes by phenol and benzoic acid was shown by RT-PCR analysis. The induction of catA gene by phenol and benzoic acid was also probed by the measurement of 1,2-CTD activity in H. organivorans growth in presence of these inducers. 16S rRNA and catA gene-based phylogenies were established among different degrading bacteria showing no phylogenetic correlation between both genes.
In this work, we isolated and determined the sequence of a gene cluster from a moderately halophilic bacterium encoding ortho-pathway genes involved in the catabolic metabolism of phenol and analyzed the gene organization, constituting the first report characterizing catabolic genes involved in the degradation of phenol in moderate halophiles, providing an ideal model system to investigate the potential use of this group of extremophiles in the decontamination of saline environments.
PMCID: PMC3112211  PMID: 21695219
10.  Microbial life at high salt concentrations: phylogenetic and metabolic diversity 
Saline Systems  2008;4:2.
Halophiles are found in all three domains of life. Within the Bacteria we know halophiles within the phyla Cyanobacteria, Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria, Spirochaetes, and Bacteroidetes. Within the Archaea the most salt-requiring microorganisms are found in the class Halobacteria. Halobacterium and most of its relatives require over 100–150 g/l salt for growth and structural stability. Also within the order Methanococci we encounter halophilic species. Halophiles and non-halophilic relatives are often found together in the phylogenetic tree, and many genera, families and orders have representatives with greatly different salt requirement and tolerance. A few phylogenetically coherent groups consist of halophiles only: the order Halobacteriales, family Halobacteriaceae (Euryarchaeota) and the anaerobic fermentative bacteria of the order Halanaerobiales (Firmicutes). The family Halomonadaceae (Gammaproteobacteria) almost exclusively contains halophiles. Halophilic microorganisms use two strategies to balance their cytoplasm osmotically with their medium. The first involves accumulation of molar concentrations of KCl. This strategy requires adaptation of the intracellular enzymatic machinery, as proteins should maintain their proper conformation and activity at near-saturating salt concentrations. The proteome of such organisms is highly acidic, and most proteins denature when suspended in low salt. Such microorganisms generally cannot survive in low salt media. The second strategy is to exclude salt from the cytoplasm and to synthesize and/or accumulate organic 'compatible' solutes that do not interfere with enzymatic activity. Few adaptations of the cells' proteome are needed, and organisms using the 'organic-solutes-in strategy' often adapt to a surprisingly broad salt concentration range. Most halophilic Bacteria, but also the halophilic methanogenic Archaea use such organic solutes. A variety of such solutes are known, including glycine betaine, ectoine and other amino acid derivatives, sugars and sugar alcohols. The 'high-salt-in strategy' is not limited to the Halobacteriaceae. The Halanaerobiales (Firmicutes) also accumulate salt rather than organic solutes. A third, phylogenetically unrelated organism accumulates KCl: the red extremely halophilic Salinibacter (Bacteroidetes), recently isolated from saltern crystallizer brines. Analysis of its genome showed many points of resemblance with the Halobacteriaceae, probably resulting from extensive horizontal gene transfer. The case of Salinibacter shows that more unusual types of halophiles may be waiting to be discovered.
PMCID: PMC2329653  PMID: 18412960
11.  Halorhabdus tiamatea: proteogenomics and glycosidase activity measurements identify the first cultivated euryarchaeon from a deep-sea anoxic brine lake as potential polysaccharide degrader 
Environmental Microbiology  2014;16(8):2525-2537.
Euryarchaea from the genus Halorhabdus have been found in hypersaline habitats worldwide, yet are represented by only two isolates: Halorhabdus utahensis AX-2T from the shallow Great Salt Lake of Utah, and Halorhabdus tiamatea SARL4BT from the Shaban deep-sea hypersaline anoxic lake (DHAL) in the Red Sea. We sequenced the H. tiamatea genome to elucidate its niche adaptations. Among sequenced archaea, H. tiamatea features the highest number of glycoside hydrolases, the majority of which were expressed in proteome experiments. Annotations and glycosidase activity measurements suggested an adaptation towards recalcitrant algal and plant-derived hemicelluloses. Glycosidase activities were higher at 2% than at 0% or 5% oxygen, supporting a preference for low-oxygen conditions. Likewise, proteomics indicated quinone-mediated electron transport at 2% oxygen, but a notable stress response at 5% oxygen. Halorhabdus tiamatea furthermore encodes proteins characteristic for thermophiles and light-dependent enzymes (e.g. bacteriorhodopsin), suggesting that H. tiamatea evolution was mostly not governed by a cold, dark, anoxic deep-sea habitat. Using enrichment and metagenomics, we could demonstrate presence of similar glycoside hydrolase-rich Halorhabdus members in the Mediterranean DHAL Medee, which supports that Halorhabdus species can occupy a distinct niche as polysaccharide degraders in hypersaline environments.
PMCID: PMC4257568  PMID: 24428220
12.  Metabolism of halophilic archaea 
Extremophiles   2008;12(2):177-196.
In spite of their common hypersaline environment, halophilic archaea are surprisingly different in their nutritional demands and metabolic pathways. The metabolic diversity of halophilic archaea was investigated at the genomic level through systematic metabolic reconstruction and comparative analysis of four completely sequenced species: Halobacterium salinarum, Haloarcula marismortui, Haloquadratum walsbyi, and the haloalkaliphile Natronomonas pharaonis. The comparative study reveals different sets of enzyme genes amongst halophilic archaea, e.g. in glycerol degradation, pentose metabolism, and folate synthesis. The carefully assessed metabolic data represent a reliable resource for future system biology approaches as it also links to current experimental data on (halo)archaea from the literature.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00792-008-0138-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC2262144  PMID: 18278431
Metabolism; Archaea; Haloarchaea; Halobacterium salinarum; Pathway database; Metabolic pathways; Enzymes; Comparative genomics
13.  The effects of extremes of pH on the growth and transcriptomic profiles of three haloarchaea 
F1000Research  2014;3:168.
The halophilic archaea (haloarchaea) live in saline environments, which are found across the globe.  In addition to salinity, these niches can be quite dynamic and experience extreme conditions such as low oxygen content, radiation (gamma and UV), pH and temperature.  However, of all the naturally occurring stresses faced by the haloarchaea, only one, pH, has not been previously investigated in regard to the changes induced in the transcriptome. Therefore, we endeavored to determine the responses in three haloarchaea: Halorubrum lacusprofundi (Hla), Haloferax volcanii (Hvo), and Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 (NRC-1) to growth under acidic and alkaline pH. Our observations showed that the transcriptomes of Hvo and NRC-1 regulated stress, motility, and ABC transporters in a similar manner, which is in line with previous reports from other prokaryotes when grown in an acidic environment.  However, the pattern for Hla was more species specific. For alkaline stress, all three haloarchaea responded in a manner similar to well-studied archaea and bacteria showing the haloarchaeal response was general to prokaryotes. Additionally, we performed an analysis on the changes in the transcriptomes of the three haloarchaea when shifting from one pH extreme to the other. The results showed that the transcriptomes of all three haloarchaea respond more similarly when moving from alkaline to acidic conditions compared to a shift in the opposite direction. Interestingly, our studies also showed that individual genes of multiple paralogous gene families ( tbp, tfb, orc/ cdc6, etc.) found in the haloarchaea were regulated under specific stresses thereby providing evidence that they modulate the response to various environmental stresses. The studies described here are the first to catalog the changes in the haloarchaeal transcriptomes under growth in extreme pH and help us understand how life is able to thrive under all conditions present on Earth and, if present, on extraterrestrial bodies as well.
PMCID: PMC4176423  PMID: 25285207
14.  Generation of comprehensive transposon insertion mutant library for the model archaeon, Haloferax volcanii, and its use for gene discovery 
BMC Biology  2014;12(1):103.
Archaea share fundamental properties with bacteria and eukaryotes. Yet, they also possess unique attributes, which largely remain poorly characterized. Haloferax volcanii is an aerobic, moderately halophilic archaeon that can be grown in defined media. It serves as an excellent archaeal model organism to study the molecular mechanisms of biological processes and cellular responses to changes in the environment. Studies on haloarchaea have been impeded by the lack of efficient genetic screens that would facilitate the identification of protein functions and respective metabolic pathways.
Here, we devised an insertion mutagenesis strategy that combined Mu in vitro DNA transposition and homologous-recombination-based gene targeting in H. volcanii. We generated an insertion mutant library, in which the clones contained a single genomic insertion. From the library, we isolated pigmentation-defective and auxotrophic mutants, and the respective insertions pinpointed a number of genes previously known to be involved in carotenoid and amino acid biosynthesis pathways, thus validating the performance of the methodologies used. We also identified mutants that had a transposon insertion in a gene encoding a protein of unknown or putative function, demonstrating that novel roles for non-annotated genes could be assigned.
We have generated, for the first time, a random genomic insertion mutant library for a halophilic archaeon and used it for efficient gene discovery. The library will facilitate the identification of non-essential genes behind any specific biochemical pathway. It represents a significant step towards achieving a more complete understanding of the unique characteristics of halophilic archaea.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12915-014-0103-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4300041  PMID: 25488358
Haloferax volcanii; Halophilic archaea; Insertion mutant library; Mu transposition; MuA protein; Gene discovery
15.  Reconstruction of the Central Carbohydrate Metabolism of Thermoproteus tenax by Use of Genomic and Biochemical Data 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(7):2179-2194.
The hyperthermophilic, facultatively heterotrophic crenarchaeum Thermoproteus tenax was analyzed using a low-coverage shotgun-sequencing approach. A total of 1.81 Mbp (representing 98.5% of the total genome), with an average gap size of 100 bp and 5.3-fold coverage, are reported, giving insights into the genome of T. tenax. Genome analysis and biochemical studies enabled us to reconstruct its central carbohydrate metabolism. T. tenax uses a variant of the reversible Embden-Meyerhof-Parnas (EMP) pathway and two different variants of the Entner-Doudoroff (ED) pathway (a nonphosphorylative variant and a semiphosphorylative variant) for carbohydrate catabolism. For the EMP pathway some new, unexpected enzymes were identified. The semiphosphorylative ED pathway, hitherto supposed to be active only in halophiles, is found in T. tenax. No evidence for a functional pentose phosphate pathway, which is essential for the generation of pentoses and NADPH for anabolic purposes in bacteria and eucarya, is found in T. tenax. Most genes involved in the reversible citric acid cycle were identified, suggesting the presence of a functional oxidative cycle under heterotrophic growth conditions and a reductive cycle for CO2 fixation under autotrophic growth conditions. Almost all genes necessary for glycogen and trehalose metabolism were identified in the T. tenax genome.
PMCID: PMC374391  PMID: 15028704
16.  Responses of Haloarchaea to Simulated Microgravity 
Astrobiology  2011;11(3):199-205.
Various effects of microgravity on prokaryotes have been recognized in recent years, with the focus on studies of pathogenic bacteria. No archaea have been investigated yet with respect to their responses to microgravity. For exposure experiments on spacecrafts or on the International Space Station, halophilic archaea (haloarchaea) are usually embedded in halite, where they accumulate in fluid inclusions. In a liquid environment, these cells will experience microgravity in space, which might influence their viability and survival. Two haloarchaeal strains, Haloferax mediterranei and Halococcus dombrowskii, were grown in simulated microgravity (SMG) with the rotary cell culture system (RCCS, Synthecon). Initially, salt precipitation and detachment of the porous aeration membranes in the RCCS were observed, but they were avoided in the remainder of the experiment by using disposable instead of reusable vessels. Several effects were detected, which were ascribed to growth in SMG: Hfx. mediterranei's resistance to the antibiotics bacitracin, erythromycin, and rifampicin increased markedly; differences in pigmentation and whole cell protein composition (proteome) of both strains were noted; cell aggregation of Hcc. dombrowskii was notably reduced. The results suggest profound effects of SMG on haloarchaeal physiology and cellular processes, some of which were easily observable and measurable. This is the first report of archaeal responses to SMG. The molecular mechanisms of the effects induced by SMG on prokaryotes are largely unknown; haloarchaea could be used as nonpathogenic model systems for their elucidation and in addition could provide information about survival during lithopanspermia (interplanetary transport of microbes inside meteorites). Key Words: Haloferax mediterranei—Halococcus dombrowskii—Simulated microgravity—Rotary cell culture system—Antibiotic resistance—Lithopanspermia. Astrobiology 11, 199–205.
PMCID: PMC3079168  PMID: 21417742
17.  Ancient origin of the divergent forms of leucyl-tRNA synthetases in the Halobacteriales 
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has greatly impacted the genealogical history of many lineages, particularly for prokaryotes, with genes frequently moving in and out of a line of descent. Many genes that were acquired by a lineage in the past likely originated from ancestral relatives that have since gone extinct. During the course of evolution, HGT has played an essential role in the origin and dissemination of genetic and metabolic novelty.
Three divergent forms of leucyl-tRNA synthetase (LeuRS) exist in the archaeal order Halobacteriales, commonly known as haloarchaea. Few haloarchaeal genomes have the typical archaeal form of this enzyme and phylogenetic analysis indicates it clusters within the Euryarchaeota as expected. The majority of sequenced halobacterial genomes possess a bacterial form of LeuRS. Phylogenetic reconstruction puts this larger group of haloarchaea at the base of the bacterial domain. The most parsimonious explanation is that an ancient transfer of LeuRS took place from an organism related to the ancestor of the bacterial domain to the haloarchaea. The bacterial form of LeuRS further underwent gene duplications and/or gene transfers within the haloarchaea, with some genomes possessing two distinct types of bacterial LeuRS. The cognate tRNALeu also reveals two distinct clusters for the haloarchaea; however, these tRNALeu clusters do not coincide with the groupings found in the LeuRS tree, revealing that LeuRS evolved independently of its cognate tRNA.
The study of leucyl-tRNA synthetase in haloarchaea illustrates the importance of gene transfer originating in lineages that went extinct since the transfer occurred. The haloarchaeal LeuRS and tRNALeu did not co-evolve.
PMCID: PMC3436685  PMID: 22694720
18.  Complete genome sequence of Halorhabdus utahensis type strain (AX-2T) 
Standards in Genomic Sciences  2009;1(3):218-225.
Halorhabdus utahensis Wainø et al. 2000 is the type species of the genus, which is of phylogenetic interest because of its location on one of the deepest branches within the very extensive euryarchaeal family Halobacteriaceae. H. utahensis is a free-living, motile, rod shaped to pleomorphic, Gram-negative archaeon, which was originally isolated from a sediment sample collected from the southern arm of Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA. When grown on appropriate media, H. utahensis can form polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). Here we describe the features of this organism, together with the complete genome sequence, and annotation. This is the first complete genome sequence of the a member of halobacterial genus Halorhabdus, and the 3,116,795 bp long single replicon genome with its 3027 protein-coding and 48 RNA genes is part of the Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea project.
PMCID: PMC3035240  PMID: 21304660
halophile; free-living; non-pathogenic; aerobic; euryarchaeon; Halobacteriaceae
19.  Evolutionary patterns of carbohydrate transport and metabolism in Halomonas boliviensis as derived from its genome sequence: influences on polyester production 
Aquatic Biosystems  2012;8:9.
Halomonas boliviensis is a halophilic bacterium that is included in the γ-Proteobacteria sub-group, and is able to assimilate different types of carbohydrates. H. boliviensis is also able to produce poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) (PHB) in high yields using glucose as the carbon precursor. Accumulation of PHB by microorganisms is induced by excess of intracellular NADH.
The genome sequences and organization in microorganisms should be the result of evolution and adaptation influenced by mutation, gene duplication, horizontal gen transfer (HGT) and recombination. Furthermore, the nearly neutral theory of evolution sustains that genetic modification of DNA could be neutral or selected, albeit most mutations should be at the border between neutrality and selection, i.e. slightly deleterious base substitutions in DNA are followed by a slightly advantageous substitutions.
This article reports the genome sequence of H. boliviensis. The chromosome size of H. boliviensis was 4 119 979 bp, and contained 3 863 genes. A total of 160 genes of H. boliviensis were related to carbohydrate transport and metabolism, and were organized as: 70 genes for metabolism of carbohydrates; 47 genes for ABC transport systems and 43 genes for TRAP-type C4-dicarboxylate transport systems. Protein sequences of H. boliviensis related to carbohydrate transport and metabolism were selected from clusters of orthologous proteins (COGs). Similar proteins derived from the genome sequences of other 41 archaea and 59 bacteria were used as reference. We found that most of the 160 genes in H. boliviensis, c.a. 44%, were obtained from other bacteria by horizontal gene transfer, while 13% of the genes were acquired from haloarchaea and thermophilic archaea, only 34% of the genes evolved among Proteobacteria and the remaining genes encoded proteins that did not cluster with any of the proteins obtained from the reference strains. Furthermore, the diversity of the enzymes derived from these genes led to polymorphism in glycolysis and gluconeogenesis. We found further that an optimum ratio of glucose and sucrose in the culture medium of H. boliviensis favored cell growth and PHB production.
Results obtained in this article depict that most genetic modifications and enzyme polymorphism in the genome of H. boliviensis were mainly influenced by HGT rather than nearly neutral mutations. Molecular adaptation and evolution experienced by H. boliviensis were also a response to environmental conditions such as the type and amount of carbohydrates in its ecological niche. Consequently, the genome evolution of H. boliviensis showed to be strongly influenced by the type of microorganisms, genetic interaction among microbial species and its environment. Such trend should also be experienced by other prokaryotes. A system for PHB production by H. boliviensis that takes into account the evolutionary adaptation of this bacterium to the assimilation of combinations of carbohydrates suggests the feasibility of a bioprocess economically viable and environmentally friendly.
PMCID: PMC3384467  PMID: 22510370
Halomonas boliviensis; Halophilic bacterium; Halomonas; Halomonadaceae; Biopolyesters; Polyhydroxyalkanoates; Genome evolution; Population genetics
20.  Low-pass sequencing for microbial comparative genomics 
BMC Genomics  2004;5:3.
We studied four extremely halophilic archaea by low-pass shotgun sequencing: (1) the metabolically versatile Haloarcula marismortui; (2) the non-pigmented Natrialba asiatica; (3) the psychrophile Halorubrum lacusprofundi and (4) the Dead Sea isolate Halobaculum gomorrense. Approximately one thousand single pass genomic sequences per genome were obtained. The data were analyzed by comparative genomic analyses using the completed Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 genome as a reference. Low-pass shotgun sequencing is a simple, inexpensive, and rapid approach that can readily be performed on any cultured microbe.
As expected, the four archaeal halophiles analyzed exhibit both bacterial and eukaryotic characteristics as well as uniquely archaeal traits. All five halophiles exhibit greater than sixty percent GC content and low isoelectric points (pI) for their predicted proteins. Multiple insertion sequence (IS) elements, often involved in genome rearrangements, were identified in H. lacusprofundi and H. marismortui. The core biological functions that govern cellular and genetic mechanisms of H. sp. NRC-1 appear to be conserved in these four other halophiles. Multiple TATA box binding protein (TBP) and transcription factor IIB (TFB) homologs were identified from most of the four shotgunned halophiles. The reconstructed molecular tree of all five halophiles shows a large divergence between these species, but with the closest relationship being between H. sp. NRC-1 and H. lacusprofundi.
Despite the diverse habitats of these species, all five halophiles share (1) high GC content and (2) low protein isoelectric points, which are characteristics associated with environmental exposure to UV radiation and hypersalinity, respectively. Identification of multiple IS elements in the genome of H. lacusprofundi and H. marismortui suggest that genome structure and dynamic genome reorganization might be similar to that previously observed in the IS-element rich genome of H. sp. NRC-1. Identification of multiple TBP and TFB homologs in these four halophiles are consistent with the hypothesis that different types of complex transcriptional regulation may occur through multiple TBP-TFB combinations in response to rapidly changing environmental conditions. Low-pass shotgun sequence analyses of genomes permit extensive and diverse analyses, and should be generally useful for comparative microbial genomics.
PMCID: PMC331400  PMID: 14718067
21.  Raman spectroscopy as a potentialmethod for the detection of extremely halophilic archaea embedded in halite in terrestrial and possibly extraterrestrial samples 
Journal of Raman spectroscopy : JRS  2009;40(12):1996-2003.
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.
PMCID: PMC3207228  PMID: 22058585
Raman spectroscopy; extremely halophilic archaea; halite; astrobiology; fluid inclusions; carotenoids; bacterioruberins; Martian subsurface
22.  The effects of extremes of pH on the growth and transcriptomic profiles of three haloarchaea 
F1000Research  2014;3:168.
The halophilic archaea (haloarchaea) live in saline environments which are found across the globe.  In addition to salinity, these niches can be quite dynamic and experience extreme conditions such as low oxygen content, radiation (gamma and UV), pH and temperature.  However, of all the naturally occurring stresses faced by the haloarchaea, only one, pH, has not been previously reported on. Therefore, we endeavored to determine the responses of the transcriptomes of three haloarchaea (Hla, Hvo, and NRC-1) to growth under acidic and alkaline pH. Our observations showed that the transcriptomes of Hvo and NRC-1 respond in a similar manner to each other as well as other prokaryotes when grown in an acidic environment, while the pattern for Hla was dissimilar. For alkaline stress, all three haloarchaea responded in a manner similar to well-studied archaea and bacteria and had four-times more significantly regulated transcripts in common, compared to acidic growth. Additionally, we performed an analysis on the changes in the transcriptomes of the three haloarchaea when shifting from one pH extreme to the other. The results showed that the transcriptomes of all three haloarchaea respond more similarly when moving from alkaline to acidic conditions compared to moving from an acidic to alkaline environment. Interestingly, our studies also showed that individual genes of multiple paralogous gene families ( tbp, tfb, orc/ cdc6, etc.) found in the haloarchaea were regulated under specific stresses thereby providing evidence that they modulate the response to various environmental stresses. The studies described here are the first to catalog the changes in the haloarchaeal transcriptomes under growth in extreme pH and help us understand how life is able to thrive under all conditions present on Earth and, if present, on extraterrestrial bodies as well.
PMCID: PMC4176423  PMID: 25285207
23.  The complete genome of Zunongwangia profunda SM-A87 reveals its adaptation to the deep-sea environment and ecological role in sedimentary organic nitrogen degradation 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:247.
Zunongwangia profunda SM-A87, which was isolated from deep-sea sediment, is an aerobic, gram-negative bacterium that represents a new genus of Flavobacteriaceae. This is the first sequenced genome of a deep-sea bacterium from the phylum Bacteroidetes.
The Z. profunda SM-A87 genome has a single 5 128 187-bp circular chromosome with no extrachromosomal elements and harbors 4 653 predicted protein-coding genes. SM-A87 produces a large amount of capsular polysaccharides and possesses two polysaccharide biosynthesis gene clusters. It has a total of 130 peptidases, 61 of which have signal peptides. In addition to extracellular peptidases, SM-A87 also has various extracellular enzymes for carbohydrate, lipid and DNA degradation. These extracellular enzymes suggest that the bacterium is able to hydrolyze organic materials in the sediment, especially carbohydrates and proteinaceous organic nitrogen. There are two clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats in the genome, but their spacers do not match any sequences in the public sequence databases. SM-A87 is a moderate halophile. Our protein isoelectric point analysis indicates that extracellular proteins have lower predicted isoelectric points than intracellular proteins. SM-A87 accumulates organic osmolytes in the cell, so its extracelluar proteins are more halophilic than its intracellular proteins.
Here, we present the first complete genome of a deep-sea sedimentary bacterium from the phylum Bacteroidetes. The genome analysis shows that SM-A87 has some common features of deep-sea bacteria, as well as an important capacity to hydrolyze sedimentary organic nitrogen.
PMCID: PMC2864250  PMID: 20398413
24.  Comparative genomics study of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) and ectoine relevant genes from Halomonas sp. TD01 revealed extensive horizontal gene transfer events and co-evolutionary relationships 
Halophilic bacteria have shown their significance in industrial production of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) and are gaining more attention for genetic engineering modification. Yet, little information on the genomics and PHA related genes from halophilic bacteria have been disclosed so far.
The draft genome of moderately halophilic bacterium, Halomonas sp. TD01, a strain of great potential for industrial production of short-chain-length polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), was analyzed through computational methods to reveal the osmoregulation mechanism and the evolutionary relationship of the enzymes relevant to PHA and ectoine syntheses. Genes involved in the metabolism of PHA and osmolytes were annotated and studied in silico. Although PHA synthase, depolymerase, regulator/repressor and phasin were all involved in PHA metabolic pathways, they demonstrated different horizontal gene transfer (HGT) events between the genomes of different strains. In contrast, co-occurrence of ectoine genes in the same genome was more frequently observed, and ectoine genes were more likely under coincidental horizontal gene transfer than PHA related genes. In addition, the adjacent organization of the homologues of PHA synthase phaC1 and PHA granule binding protein phaP was conserved in the strain TD01, which was also observed in some halophiles and non-halophiles exclusively from γ-proteobacteria. In contrast to haloarchaea, the proteome of Halomonas sp. TD01 did not show obvious inclination towards acidity relative to non-halophilic Escherichia coli MG1655, which signified that Halomonas sp. TD01 preferred the accumulation of organic osmolytes to ions in order to balance the intracellular osmotic pressure with the environment.
The accessibility of genome information would facilitate research on the genetic engineering of halophilic bacteria including Halomonas sp. TD01.
PMCID: PMC3227634  PMID: 22040376
Halomonas spp.; PHB; polyhydroxyalkanoates; osmolytes; genome; PhaC
25.  Identification and Characterization of a New Erythromycin Biosynthetic Gene Cluster in Actinopolyspora erythraea YIM90600, a Novel Erythronolide-Producing Halophilic Actinomycete Isolated from Salt Field 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108129.
Erythromycins (Ers) are clinically potent macrolide antibiotics in treating pathogenic bacterial infections. Microorganisms capable of producing Ers, represented by Saccharopolyspora erythraea, are mainly soil-dwelling actinomycetes. So far, Actinopolyspora erythraea YIM90600, a halophilic actinomycete isolated from Baicheng salt field, is the only known Er-producing extremophile. In this study, we have reported the draft genome sequence of Ac. erythraea YIM90600, genome mining of which has revealed a new Er biosynthetic gene cluster encoding several novel Er metabolites. This Er gene cluster shares high identity and similarity with the one of Sa. erythraea NRRL2338, except for two absent genes, eryBI and eryG. By correlating genotype and chemotype, the biosynthetic pathways of 3′-demethyl-erythromycin C, erythronolide H (EH) and erythronolide I have been proposed. The formation of EH is supposed to be sequentially biosynthesized via C-6/C-18 epoxidation and C-14 hydroxylation from 6-deoxyerythronolide B. Although an in vitro enzymatic activity assay has provided limited evidence for the involvement of the cytochrome P450 oxidase EryFAc (derived from Ac. erythraea YIM90600) in the catalysis of a two-step oxidation, resulting in an epoxy moiety, the attempt to construct an EH-producing Sa. erythraea mutant via gene complementation was not successful. Characterization of EryKAc (derived from Ac. erythraea YIM90600) in vitro has confirmed its unique role as a C-12 hydroxylase, rather than a C-14 hydroxylase of the erythronolide. Genomic characterization of the halophile Ac. erythraea YIM90600 will assist us to explore the great potential of extremophiles, and promote the understanding of EH formation, which will shed new insights into the biosynthesis of Er metabolites.
PMCID: PMC4176971  PMID: 25250723

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