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1.  Responses of Haloarchaea to Simulated Microgravity 
Astrobiology  2011;11(3):199-205.
Abstract
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.
doi:10.1089/ast.2010.0536
PMCID: PMC3079168  PMID: 21417742
2.  Identification of polyhydroxyalkanoates in Halococcus and other haloarchaeal species 
Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are accumulated in many prokaryotes. Several members of the Halobacteriaceae produce poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB), but it is not known if this is a general property of the family. We evaluated identification methods for PHAs with 20 haloarchaeal species, three of them isolates from Permian salt. Staining with Sudan Black B, Nile Blue A, or Nile Red was applied to screen for the presence of PHAs. Transmission electron microscopy and 1H-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy were used for visualization of PHB granules and chemical confirmation of PHAs in cell extracts, respectively. We report for the first time the production of PHAs by Halococcus sp. (Halococcus morrhuae DSM 1307T, Halococcus saccharolyticus DSM 5350T, Halococcus salifodinae DSM 8989T, Halococcus dombrowskii DSM 14522T, Halococcus hamelinensis JCM 12892T, Halococcus qingdaonensis JCM 13587T), Halorubrum sp. (Hrr. coriense DSM 10284T, Halorubrum chaoviator DSM 19316T, Hrr. chaoviator strains NaxosII and AUS-1), haloalkaliphiles (Natronobacterium gregoryi NCMB 2189T, Natronococcus occultus DSM 3396T) and Halobacterium noricense DSM 9758T. No PHB was detected in Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 ATCC 700922, Hbt. salinarum R1 and Haloferax volcanii DSM 3757T. Most species synthesized PHAs when growing in synthetic as well as in complex medium. The polyesters were generally composed of PHB and poly-ß-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate (PHBV). Available genomic data suggest the absence of PHA synthesis in some haloarchaea and in all other Euryarchaeota and Crenarchaeota. Homologies between haloarchaeal and bacterial PHA synthesizing enzymes had indicated to some authors probable horizontal gene transfer, which, considering the data obtained in this study, may have occurred already before Permian times.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00253-010-2611-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s00253-010-2611-6
PMCID: PMC2895300  PMID: 20437233
Polyhydroxybutyrate; Haloarchaea; Halococcus; Halobacterium; Haloalkaliphile
3.  Halophilic Archaea: Life with Desiccation, Radiation and Oligotrophy over Geological Times 
Life  2015;5(3):1487-1496.
Halophilic archaebacteria (Haloarchaea) can survive extreme desiccation, starvation and radiation, sometimes apparently for millions of years. Several of the strategies that are involved appear specific for Haloarchaea (for example, the formation of halomucin, survival in fluid inclusions of halite), and some are known from other prokaryotes (dwarfing of cells, reduction of ATP). Several newly-discovered haloarchaeal strategies that were inferred to possibly promote long-term survival—halomucin, polyploidy, usage of DNA as a phosphate storage polymer, production of spherical dormant stages—remain to be characterized in detail. More information on potential strategies is desirable, since evidence for the presence of halite on Mars and on several moons in the solar system increased interest in halophiles with respect to the search for extraterrestrial life. This review deals in particular with novel findings and hypotheses on haloarchaeal long-term survival.
doi:10.3390/life5031487
PMCID: PMC4598649  PMID: 26226005
Halococcus species; Halococcus salifodinae; Haloarchaea; long-term survival; halomucin; polyploidy; ancient salt deposit; extraterrestrial halite
4.  Radiation-Dependent Limit for the Viability of Bacterial Spores in Halite Fluid Inclusions and on Mars 
Radiation research  2003;159(6):722-729.
Kminek, G., Bada, J. L., Pogliano, K. and Ward, J. F. Radiation-Dependent Limit for the Viability of Bacterial Spores in Halite Fluid Inclusions and on Mars. Radiat. Res. 159, 722–729 (2003).
When claims for the long-term survival of viable organisms are made, either within terrestrial minerals or on Mars, considerations should be made of the limitations imposed by the naturally occurring radiation dose to which they have been exposed. We investigated the effect of ionizing radiation on different bacterial spores by measuring the inactivation constants for B. subtilis and S. marismortui spores in solution as well as for dry spores of B. subtilis and B. thuringiensis. S. marismortui is a halophilic spore that is genetically similar to the recently discovered 2-9-3 bacterium from a halite fluid inclusion, claimed to be 250 million years old (Vreeland et al., Nature 407, 897–900, 2000). B. thuringiensis is a soil bacterium that is genetically similar to the human pathogens B. anthracis and B. cereus (Helgason et al., Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 66, 2627–2630, 2000). To relate the inactivation constant to some realistic environments, we calculated the radiation regimen in a halite fluid inclusion and in the Martian subsurface over time. Our conclusion is that the ionizing dose of radiation in those environments limits the survival of viable bacterial spores over long periods. In the absence of an active repair mechanism in the dormant state, the long-term survival of spores is limited to less than 109 million years in halite fluid inclusions, to 100 to 160 million years in the Martian subsurface below 3 m, and to less than 600,000 years in the uppermost meter of Mars.
PMCID: PMC3919141  PMID: 12751954
5.  Characterization of Ancient DNA Supports Long-Term Survival of Haloarchaea 
Astrobiology  2014;14(7):553-560.
Abstract
Bacteria and archaea isolated from crystals of halite 104 to 108 years old suggest long-term survival of halophilic microorganisms, but the results are controversial. Independent verification of the authenticity of reputed living prokaryotes in ancient salt is required because of the high potential for environmental and laboratory contamination. Low success rates of prokaryote cultivation from ancient halite, however, hamper direct replication experiments. In such cases, culture-independent approaches that use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing of 16S ribosomal DNA are a robust alternative. Here, we use amplification, cloning, and sequencing of 16S ribosomal DNA to investigate the authenticity of halophilic archaea cultured from subsurface halite, Death Valley, California, 22,000 to 34,000 years old. We recovered 16S ribosomal DNA sequences that are identical, or nearly so (>99%), to two strains, Natronomonas DV462A and Halorubrum DV427, which were previously isolated from the same halite interval. These results provide the best independent support to date for the long-term survival of halophilic archaea in ancient halite. PCR-based approaches are sensitive to small amounts of DNA and could allow investigation of even older halites, 106 to 108 years old, from which microbial cultures have been reported. Such studies of microbial life in ancient salt are particularly important as we search for microbial signatures in similar deposits on Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System. Key Words: Ancient DNA—Halite—Haloarchaea—Long-term survival. Astrobiology 14, 553–560.
doi:10.1089/ast.2014.1173
PMCID: PMC4094027  PMID: 24977469
6.  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.
doi:10.1002/jrs.2357
PMCID: PMC3207228  PMID: 22058585
Raman spectroscopy; extremely halophilic archaea; halite; astrobiology; fluid inclusions; carotenoids; bacterioruberins; Martian subsurface
7.  Halococcus qingdaonensis sp. nov., a halophilic archaeon isolated from a crude sea-salt sample 
A Gram-negative, extremely halophilic, coccoid archaeal strain, CM5T, was isolated from a crude sea-salt sample collected near Qingdao, China. The organism grew optimally at 35–40 °C and pH 6.0 in the presence of 20 % (w/v) NaCl. Its colonies were red in colour and it could use glucose as a sole carbon source for growth. The 16S rRNA gene sequence of CM5T was most closely related to those of Halococcus species. Its pattern of antibiotic susceptibility was similar to those of other described Halococcus species. Biochemical tests revealed no sign of H2S production or gelatin liquefaction. The main polar lipids of strain CM5T were phosphatidylglycerol, phosphatidylglycerol methylphosphate and sulfated diglycosyl diether. No phosphatidylglycerol sulfate was present. The DNA G+C content of strain CM5T was 61.2 mol% and it gave DNA–DNA reassociation values of 33.7, 57.1 and 29.6 %, respectively, with Halococcus salifodinae DSM 8989T, Halococcus dombrowskii DSM 14522T and Halococcus morrhuae ATCC 17082T. Based on its morphological and chemotaxonomic properties and phylogenetic analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequence data, we propose that CM5T should be classified within a novel species, Halococcus qingdaonensis sp. nov., with strain CM5T (=CGMCC 1.4243T=JCM 13587T) as the type strain.
doi:10.1099/ijs.0.64673-0
PMCID: PMC3182530  PMID: 17329792
8.  Starvation-Survival in Haloarchaea 
Life  2015;5(4):1587-1609.
Recent studies claiming to revive ancient microorganisms trapped in fluid inclusions in halite have warranted an investigation of long-term microbial persistence. While starvation-survival is widely reported for bacteria, it is less well known for halophilic archaea—microorganisms likely to be trapped in ancient salt crystals. To better understand microbial survival in fluid inclusions in ancient evaporites, laboratory experiments were designed to simulate growth of halophilic archaea under media-rich conditions, complete nutrient deprivation, and a controlled substrate condition (glycerol-rich) and record their responses. Haloarchaea used for this work included Hbt. salinarum and isolate DV582A-1 (genus Haloterrigena) sub-cultured from 34 kyear Death Valley salt. Hbt. salinarum and DV582A-1 reacted to nutrient limitation with morphological and population changes. Starved populations increased and most cells converted from rods to small cocci within 56 days of nutrient deprivation. The exact timing of starvation adaptations and the physical transformations differed between species, populations of the same species, and cells of the same population. This is the first study to report the timing of starvation strategies for Hbt. salinarum and DV582A-1. The morphological states in these experiments may allow differentiation between cells trapped with adequate nutrients (represented here by early stages in nutrient-rich media) from cells trapped without nutrients (represented here by experimental starvation) in ancient salt. The hypothesis that glycerol, leaked from Dunaliella, provides nutrients for the survival of haloarchaea trapped in fluid inclusions in ancient halite, is also tested. Hbt. salinarum and DV582A-1 were exposed to a mixture of lysed and intact Dunaliella for 56 days. The ability of these organisms to utilize glycerol from Dunaliella cells was assessed by documenting population growth, cell length, and cell morphology. Hbt. salinarum and DV582A-1 experienced size reductions and shape transitions from rods to cocci. In the short-term, these trends more closely resembled the response of these organisms to starvation conditions than to nutrient-rich media. Results from this experiment reproduced the physical state of cells (small cocci) in ancient halite where prokaryotes co-exist with single-celled algae. We conclude that glycerol is not the limiting factor in the survival of haloarchaea for thousands of years in fluid inclusions in halite.
doi:10.3390/life5041587
PMCID: PMC4695838  PMID: 26569313
haloarchaea; algae; Dunaliella; starvation-survival; fluid inclusions; halite
9.  A Microbial Oasis in the Hypersaline Atacama Subsurface Discovered by a Life Detector Chip: Implications for the Search for Life on Mars 
Astrobiology  2011;11(10):969-996.
Abstract
The Atacama Desert has long been considered a good Mars analogue for testing instrumentation for planetary exploration, but very few data (if any) have been reported about the geomicrobiology of its salt-rich subsurface. We performed a Mars analogue drilling campaign next to the Salar Grande (Atacama, Chile) in July 2009, and several cores and powder samples from up to 5 m deep were analyzed in situ with LDChip300 (a Life Detector Chip containing 300 antibodies). Here, we show the discovery of a hypersaline subsurface microbial habitat associated with halite-, nitrate-, and perchlorate-containing salts at 2 m deep. LDChip300 detected bacteria, archaea, and other biological material (DNA, exopolysaccharides, some peptides) from the analysis of less than 0.5 g of ground core sample. The results were supported by oligonucleotide microarray hybridization in the field and finally confirmed by molecular phylogenetic analysis and direct visualization of microbial cells bound to halite crystals in the laboratory. Geochemical analyses revealed a habitat with abundant hygroscopic salts like halite (up to 260 g kg−1) and perchlorate (41.13 μg g−1 maximum), which allow deliquescence events at low relative humidity. Thin liquid water films would permit microbes to proliferate by using detected organic acids like acetate (19.14 μg g−1) or formate (76.06 μg g−1) as electron donors, and sulfate (15875 μg g−1), nitrate (13490 μg g−1), or perchlorate as acceptors. Our results correlate with the discovery of similar hygroscopic salts and possible deliquescence processes on Mars, and open new search strategies for subsurface martian biota. The performance demonstrated by our LDChip300 validates this technology for planetary exploration, particularly for the search for life on Mars. Key Words: Atacama Desert—Life detection—Biosensor—Biopolymers—In situ measurement. Astrobiology 11, 969–996.
doi:10.1089/ast.2011.0654
PMCID: PMC3242637  PMID: 22149750
10.  Polyploidy in haloarchaea: advantages for growth and survival 
The investigated haloarchaeal species, Halobacterium salinarum, Haloferax mediterranei, and H. volcanii, have all been shown to be polyploid. They contain several replicons that have independent copy number regulation, and most have a higher copy number during exponential growth phase than in stationary phase. The possible evolutionary advantages of polyploidy for haloarchaea, most of which have experimental support for at least one species, are discussed. These advantages include a low mutation rate and high resistance toward X-ray irradiation and desiccation, which depend on homologous recombination. For H. volcanii, it has been shown that gene conversion operates in the absence of selection, which leads to the equalization of genome copies. On the other hand, selective forces might lead to heterozygous cells, which have been verified in the laboratory. Additional advantages of polyploidy are survival over geological times in halite deposits as well as at extreme conditions on earth and at simulated Mars conditions. Recently, it was found that H. volcanii uses genomic DNA as genetic material and as a storage polymer for phosphate. In the absence of phosphate, H. volcanii dramatically decreases its genome copy number, thereby enabling cell multiplication, but diminishing the genetic advantages of polyploidy. Stable storage of phosphate is proposed as an alternative driving force for the emergence of DNA in early evolution. Several additional potential advantages of polyploidy are discussed that have not been addressed experimentally for haloarchaea. An outlook summarizes selected current trends and possible future developments.
doi:10.3389/fmicb.2014.00274
PMCID: PMC4056108  PMID: 24982654
Haloferax volcanii; archaea; polyploidy; gene conversion; desiccation; survival
11.  A Conspicuous Clay Ovoid in Nakhla: Evidence for Subsurface Hydrothermal Alteration on Mars with Implications for Astrobiology 
Astrobiology  2014;14(8):651-693.
Abstract
A conspicuous biomorphic ovoid structure has been discovered in the Nakhla martian meteorite, made of nanocrystalline iron-rich saponitic clay and amorphous material. The ovoid is indigenous to Nakhla and occurs within a late-formed amorphous mesostasis region of rhyolitic composition that is interstitial to two clinopyroxene grains with Al-rich rims, and contains acicular apatite crystals, olivine, sulfides, Ti-rich magnetite, and a new mineral of the rhoenite group. To infer the origin of the ovoid, a large set of analytical tools was employed, including scanning electron microscopy and backscattered electron imaging, wavelength-dispersive X-ray analysis, X-ray mapping, Raman spectroscopy, time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry analysis, high-resolution transmission electron microscope imaging, and atomic force microscope topographic mapping. The concentric wall of the ovoid surrounds an originally hollow volume and exhibits internal layering of contrasting nanotextures but uniform chemical composition, and likely inherited its overall shape from a preexisting vesicle in the mesostasis glass. A final fibrous layer of Fe-rich phases blankets the interior surfaces of the ovoid wall structure. There is evidence that the parent rock of Nakhla has undergone a shock event from a nearby bolide impact that melted the rims of pyroxene and the interstitial matter and initiated an igneous hydrothermal system of rapidly cooling fluids, which were progressively mixed with fluids from the melted permafrost. Sharp temperature gradients were responsible for the crystallization of Al-rich clinopyroxene rims, rhoenite, acicular apatites, and the quenching of the mesostasis glass and the vesicle. During the formation of the ovoid structure, episodic fluid infiltration events resulted in the precipitation of saponite rinds around the vesicle walls, altered pyrrhotite to marcasite, and then isolated the ovoid wall structure from the rest of the system by depositing a layer of iron oxides/hydroxides. Carbonates, halite, and sulfates were deposited last within interstitial spaces and along fractures. Among three plausible competing hypotheses here, this particular abiotic scenario is considered to be the most reasonable explanation for the formation of the ovoid structure in Nakhla, and although compelling evidence for a biotic origin is lacking, it is evident that the martian subsurface contains niche environments where life could develop. Key Words: Biomorph—Clays—Search for life (biosignatures)—Martian meteorites—Hydrothermal systems. Astrobiology 14, 651–693.
doi:10.1089/ast.2013.1069
PMCID: PMC4126275  PMID: 25046549
12.  The core and unique proteins of haloarchaea 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:39.
Background
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.
Results
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.
Conclusion
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.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-39
PMCID: PMC3287961  PMID: 22272718
13.  Is there a common water-activity limit for the three domains of life? 
The ISME Journal  2014;9(6):1333-1351.
Archaea and Bacteria constitute a majority of life systems on Earth but have long been considered inferior to Eukarya in terms of solute tolerance. Whereas the most halophilic prokaryotes are known for an ability to multiply at saturated NaCl (water activity (aw) 0.755) some xerophilic fungi can germinate, usually at high-sugar concentrations, at values as low as 0.650–0.605 aw. Here, we present evidence that halophilic prokayotes can grow down to water activities of <0.755 for Halanaerobium lacusrosei (0.748), Halobacterium strain 004.1 (0.728), Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 and Halococcus morrhuae (0.717), Haloquadratum walsbyi (0.709), Halococcus salifodinae (0.693), Halobacterium noricense (0.687), Natrinema pallidum (0.681) and haloarchaeal strains GN-2 and GN-5 (0.635 aw). Furthermore, extrapolation of growth curves (prone to giving conservative estimates) indicated theoretical minima down to 0.611 aw for extreme, obligately halophilic Archaea and Bacteria. These were compared with minima for the most solute-tolerant Bacteria in high-sugar (or other non-saline) media (Mycobacterium spp., Tetragenococcus halophilus, Saccharibacter floricola, Staphylococcus aureus and so on) and eukaryotic microbes in saline (Wallemia spp., Basipetospora halophila, Dunaliella spp. and so on) and high-sugar substrates (for example, Xeromyces bisporus, Zygosaccharomyces rouxii, Aspergillus and Eurotium spp.). We also manipulated the balance of chaotropic and kosmotropic stressors for the extreme, xerophilic fungi Aspergillus penicilloides and X. bisporus and, via this approach, their established water-activity limits for mycelial growth (∼0.65) were reduced to 0.640. Furthermore, extrapolations indicated theoretical limits of 0.632 and 0.636 aw for A. penicilloides and X. bisporus, respectively. Collectively, these findings suggest that there is a common water-activity limit that is determined by physicochemical constraints for the three domains of life.
doi:10.1038/ismej.2014.219
PMCID: PMC4438321  PMID: 25500507
14.  Searching for signatures of life on Mars: an Fe-isotope perspective 
Recent spacecraft and lander missions to Mars have reinforced previous interpretations that Mars was a wet and warm planet in the geological past. The role of liquid water in shaping many of the surface features on Mars has long been recognized. Since the presence of liquid water is essential for survival of life, conditions on early Mars might have been more favourable for the emergence and evolution of life. Until a sample return mission to Mars, one of the ways of studying the past environmental conditions on Mars is through chemical and isotopic studies of Martian meteorites. Over 35 individual meteorite samples, believed to have originated on Mars, are now available for lab-based studies. Fe is a key element that is present in both primary and secondary minerals in the Martian meteorites. Fe-isotope ratios can be fractionated by low-temperature processes which includes biological activity. Experimental investigations of Fe reduction and oxidation by bacteria have produced large fractionation in Fe-isotope ratios. Hence, it is considered likely that if there is/were any form of life present on Mars then it might be possible to detect its signature by Fe-isotope studies of Martian meteorites. In the present study, we have analysed a number of Martian meteorites for their bulk-Fe-isotope composition. In addition, a set of terrestrial analogue material has also been analysed to compare the results and draw inferences. So far, our studies have not found any measurable Fe-isotopic fractionation in bulk Martian meteorites that can be ascribed to any low-temperature process operative on Mars.
doi:10.1098/rstb.2006.1899
PMCID: PMC1664681  PMID: 17008212
Mars; Martian meteorites; SNC; terrestrial analogues; iron isotopes; life
15.  Growth Potential of Halophilic Bacteria Isolated from Solar Salt Environments: Carbon Sources and Salt Requirements 
Eighteen strains of extremely halophilic bacteria and three strains of moderately halophilic bacteria were isolated from four different solar salt environments. Growth tests on carbohydrates, low-molecular-weight carboxylic acids, and complex medium demonstrated that the moderate halophiles and strains of the extreme halophiles Haloarcula and Halococcus grew on most of the substrates tested. Among the Halobacterium isolates were several metabolic groups: strains that grew on a broad range of substrates and strains that were essentially confined to either amino acid (peptone) or carbohydrate oxidation. One strain (WS-4) only grew well on pyruvate and acetate. Most strains of extreme halophiles grew by anaerobic fermentation and possibly by nitrate reduction. Tests of growth potential in natural saltern brines demonstrated that none of the halobacteria grew well in brines which harbor the densest populations of these bacteria in solar salterns. All grew best in brines which were unsaturated with NaCl. The high concentrations of Na+ and Mg2+ found in saltern crystallizer brines limited bacterial growth, but the concentrations of K+ found in these brines had little effect. MgSO4 was relatively more inhibitory to the extreme halophiles than was MgCl2, but the reverse was true for the moderate halophiles.
PMCID: PMC241517  PMID: 16346609
16.  Acidophilic Halophilic Microorganisms in Fluid Inclusions in Halite from Lake Magic, Western Australia 
Astrobiology  2013;13(9):850-860.
Abstract
Lake Magic is one of the most extreme of hundreds of ephemeral acid-saline lakes in southern Western Australia. It has pH as low as 1.7, salinity as high as 32% total dissolved solids, temperatures ranging from 0°C to 50°C, and an unusually complex aqueous composition. Optical petrography, UV-vis petrography, and laser Raman spectrometry were used to detect microorganisms and organic compounds within primary fluid inclusions in modern bedded halite from Lake Magic. Rare prokaryotes appear as 1–3 μm, bright cocci that fluoresce green with UV-vis illumination. Dimpled, 5–7 μm yellow spherules that fluoresce blue with UV-vis illumination are interpreted as Dunaliella algae. Yellow-orange beta-carotene crystals, globules, and coatings are characterized by orange-red fluorescence and three distinct Raman peaks. Because acid saline lakes are good Mars analogues, the documentation of prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and organic compounds preserved in the halite here has implications for the search for life on Mars. Missions to Mars should incorporate such in situ optical and chemical examination of martian evaporites for possible microorganisms and/or organic compounds in fluid inclusions. Key Words: Acid—Extremophiles—Western Australia—Fluid inclusions—Lake Magic—Dunaliella. Astrobiology 13, 850–860.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0956
PMCID: PMC3778947  PMID: 23971647
17.  Spherical particles of halophilic archaea correlate with exposure to low water activity – implications for microbial survival in fluid inclusions of ancient halite 
Geobiology  2012;10(5):424-433.
Viable extremely halophilic archaea (haloarchaea) have been isolated from million-year-old salt deposits around the world; however, an explanation of their supposed longevity remains a fundamental challenge. Recently small roundish particles in fluid inclusions of 22 000- to 34 000-year-old halite were identified as haloarchaea capable of proliferation (Schubert BA, Lowenstein TK, Timofeeff MN, Parker MA, 2010, Environmental Microbiology, 12, 440–454). Searching for a method to produce such particles in the laboratory, we exposed rod-shaped cells of Halobacterium species to reduced external water activity (aw). Gradual formation of spheres of about 0.4 μm diameter occurred in 4 m NaCl buffer of aw ≤ 0.75, but exposure to buffered 4 m LiCl (aw ≤ 0.73) split cells into spheres within seconds, with concomitant release of several proteins. From one rod, three or four spheres emerged, which re-grew to normal rods in nutrient media. Biochemical properties of rods and spheres were similar, except for a markedly reduced ATP content (about 50-fold) and an increased lag phase of spheres, as is known from dormant bacteria. The presence of viable particles of similar sizes in ancient fluid inclusions suggested that spheres might represent dormant states of haloarchaea. The easy production of spheres by lowering aw should facilitate their investigation and could help to understand the mechanisms for microbial survival over geological times.
doi:10.1111/j.1472-4669.2012.00337.x
PMCID: PMC3495301  PMID: 22804926
18.  On the Response of Halophilic Archaea to Space Conditions 
Life : Open Access Journal  2014;4(1):66-76.
Microorganisms are ubiquitous and can be found in almost every habitat and ecological niche on Earth. They thrive and survive in a broad spectrum of environments and adapt to rapidly changing external conditions. It is of great interest to investigate how microbes adapt to different extreme environments and with modern human space travel, we added a new extreme environment: outer space. Within the last 50 years, technology has provided tools for transporting microbial life beyond Earth’s protective shield in order to study in situ responses to selected conditions of space. This review will focus on halophilic archaea, as, due to their ability to survive in extremes, they are often considered a model group of organisms to study responses to the harsh conditions associated with space. We discuss ground-based simulations, as well as space experiments, utilizing archaea, examining responses and/or resistance to the effects of microgravity and UV in particular. Several halophilic archaea (e.g., Halorubrum chaoviator) have been exposed to simulated and actual space conditions and their survival has been determined as well as the protective effects of halite shown. Finally, the intriguing potential of archaea to survive on other planets or embedded in a meteorite is postulated.
doi:10.3390/life4010066
PMCID: PMC4187150  PMID: 25370029
halophilic archaea; space conditions; UV
19.  Culturable halophilic archaea at the initial and crystallization stages of salt production in a natural solar saltern of Goa, India 
Aquatic Biosystems  2012;8:15.
Background
Goa is a coastal state in India and salt making is being practiced for many years. This investigation aimed in determining the culturable haloarchaeal diversity during two different phases of salt production in a natural solar saltern of Ribandar, Goa. Water and sediment samples were collected from the saltern during pre-salt harvesting phase and salt harvesting phase. Salinity and pH of the sampling site was determined. Isolates were obtained by plating of the samples on complex and synthetic haloarchaeal media. Morphology of the isolates was determined using Gram staining and electron microscopy. Response of cells to distilled water was studied spectrophotometrically at 600nm. Molecular identification of the isolates was performed by sequencing the 16S rRNA.
Results
Salinity of salt pans varied from 3-4% (non-salt production phase) to 30% (salt production phase) and pH varied from 7.0-8.0. Seven haloarchaeal strains were isolated from water and sediment samples during non-salt production phase and seventeen haloarchaeal strains were isolated during the salt production phase. All the strains stained uniformly Gram negative. The orange-red acetone extract of the pigments showed similar spectrophotometric profile with absorption maxima at 393, 474, 501 and 535 nm. All isolates obtained from the salt dilute phase were grouped within the genus Halococcus. This was validated using both total lipid profiling and 16S rRNA data sequencing. The isolates obtained from pre-salt harvesting phase were resistant to lysis. 16S rRNA data showed that organisms belonging to Halorubrum, Haloarcula, Haloferax and Halococcus genera were obtained during the salt concentrated phase. The isolates obtained from salt harvesting phase showed varied lysis on suspension in distilled water and /or 3.5% NaCl.
Conclusion
Salterns in Goa are transiently operated during post monsoon season from January to May. During the pre-salt harvesting phase, all the isolates obtained belonged to Halococcus sp. During the salt harvesting phase, isolates belonging to Halorubrum, Haloarcula, Haloferax and Halococcus genera were obtained. This study clearly indicates that Halococcus sp. dominates during the low salinity conditions.
doi:10.1186/2046-9063-8-15
PMCID: PMC3444409  PMID: 22747590
Archaea; Haloarchaea; Hypersaline; Solar saltern
20.  Bacterial Growth at the High Concentrations of Magnesium Sulfate Found in Martian Soils 
Astrobiology  2012;12(2):98-106.
Abstract
The martian surface environment exhibits extremes of salinity, temperature, desiccation, and radiation that would make it difficult for terrestrial microbes to survive. Recent evidence suggests that martian soils contain high concentrations of MgSO4 minerals. Through warming of the soils, meltwater derived from subterranean ice-rich regolith may exist for an extended period of time and thus allow the propagation of terrestrial microbes and create significant bioburden at the near surface of Mars. The current report demonstrates that halotolerant bacteria from the Great Salt Plains (GSP) of Oklahoma are capable of growing at high concentrations of MgSO4 in the form of 2 M solutions of epsomite. The epsotolerance of isolates in the GSP bacterial collection was determined, with 35% growing at 2 M MgSO4. There was a complex physiological response to mixtures of MgSO4 and NaCl coupled with other environmental stressors. Growth also was measured at 1 M concentrations of other magnesium and sulfate salts. The complex responses may be partially explained by the pattern of chaotropicity observed for high-salt solutions as measured by agar gelation temperature. Select isolates could grow at the high salt concentrations and low temperatures found on Mars. Survival during repetitive freeze-thaw or drying-rewetting cycles was used as other measures of potential success on the martian surface. Our results indicate that terrestrial microbes might survive under the high-salt, low-temperature, anaerobic conditions on Mars and present significant potential for forward contamination. Stringent planetary protection requirements are needed for future life-detection missions to Mars. Key Words: Analogue—Mars—Planetary protection—Salts—Life in extreme environments. Astrobiology 12, 98–106.
doi:10.1089/ast.2011.0720
PMCID: PMC3277918  PMID: 22248384
21.  Lysis of Halobacteria in Bacto-Peptone by Bile Acids 
All tested strains of halophilic archaebacteria of the genera Halobacterium, Haloarcula, Haloferax, and Natronobacterium lysed in 1% Bacto-Peptone (Difco) containing 25% NaCl, whereas no lysis was observed with other strains belonging to archaebacteria of the genera Halococcus, Natronococcus, and Sulfolobus, methanogenic bacteria, and moderately halophilic eubacteria. Substances in Bacto-Peptone which caused lysis of halobacteria were purified and identified as taurocholic acid and glycocholic acid. High-performance liquid chromatography analyses of peptones revealed that Bacto-Peptone contained nine different bile acids, with a total content of 9.53 mg/g, whereas much lower amounts were found in Peptone Bacteriological Technical (Difco) and Oxoid Peptone. Different kinds of peptones can be used to distinguish halophilic eubacteria and archaebacteria in mixed cultures from hypersaline environments.
PMCID: PMC202585  PMID: 16347619
22.  Low-pass sequencing for microbial comparative genomics 
BMC Genomics  2004;5:3.
Background
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.
Results
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.
Conclusion
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.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-5-3
PMCID: PMC331400  PMID: 14718067
23.  A traditional Japanese-style salt field is a niche for haloarchaeal strains that can survive in 0.5% salt solution 
Saline Systems  2007;3:2.
Background
Most of the haloarchaeal strains have been isolated from hypersaline environments such as solar evaporation ponds, salt lakes, or salt deposits, and they, with some exceptions, lyse or lose viability in very low-salt concentrations. There are no salty environments suitable for the growth of haloarchaea in Japan. Although Natrialba asiatica and Haloarcula japonica were isolated many years ago, the question, "Are haloarchaea really thriving in natural environments of Japan?" has remained unanswered.
Results
Ten strains were isolated from a traditional Japanese-style salt field at Nie, Noto Peninsula, Japan by plating out the soil samples directly on agar plates containing 30% (w/v) salts and 0.5% yeast extract. They were most closely related to strains of three genera, Haladaptatus, Halococcus, and Halogeometricum. Survival rates in 3% and 0.5% SW (Salt Water, solutions containing salts in approximately the same proportions as found in seawater) solutions at 37°C differed considerably depending on the strains. Two strains belonging to Halogeometricum as well as the type strain Hgm. borinquense died and lysed immediately after suspension. Five strains that belonged to Halococcus and a strain that may be a member of Halogeometricum survived for 1–2 days in 0.5% SW solution. Two strains most closely related to Haladaptatus possessed extraordinary strong tolerance to low salt conditions. About 20 to 34% of the cells remained viable in 0.5% SW after 9 days incubation.
Conclusion
In this study we have demonstrated that haloarchaea are really thriving in the soil of Japanese-style salt field. The haloarchaeal cells, particularly the fragile strains are suggested to survive in the micropores of smaller size silt fraction, one of the components of soil. The inside of the silt particles is filled with concentrated salt solution and kept intact even upon suspension in rainwater. Possible origins of the haloarchaea isolated in this study are discussed.
doi:10.1186/1746-1448-3-2
PMCID: PMC1828056  PMID: 17346353
24.  Persistence of Biomarker ATP and ATP-Generating Capability in Bacterial Cells and Spores Contaminating Spacecraft Materials under Earth Conditions and in a Simulated Martian Environment▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2008;74(16):5159-5167.
Most planetary protection research has concentrated on characterizing viable bioloads on spacecraft surfaces, developing techniques for bioload reduction prior to launch, and studying the effects of simulated martian environments on microbial survival. Little research has examined the persistence of biogenic signature molecules on spacecraft materials under simulated martian surface conditions. This study examined how endogenous adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP) would persist on aluminum coupons under simulated martian conditions of 7.1 mbar, full-spectrum simulated martian radiation calibrated to 4 W m−2 of UV-C (200 to 280 nm), −10°C, and a Mars gas mix of CO2 (95.54%), N2 (2.7%), Ar (1.6%), O2 (0.13%), and H2O (0.03%). Cell or spore viabilities of Acinetobacter radioresistens, Bacillus pumilus, and B. subtilis were measured in minutes to hours, while high levels of endogenous ATP were recovered after exposures of up to 21 days. The dominant factor responsible for temporal reductions in viability and loss of ATP was the simulated Mars surface radiation; low pressure, low temperature, and the Mars gas composition exhibited only slight effects. The normal burst of endogenous ATP detected during spore germination in B. pumilus and B. subtilis was reduced by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude following, respectively, 8- or 30-min exposures to simulated martian conditions. The results support the conclusion that endogenous ATP will persist for time periods that are likely to extend beyond the nominal lengths of most surface missions on Mars, and planetary protection protocols prior to launch may require additional rigor to further reduce the presence and abundance of biosignature molecules on spacecraft surfaces.
doi:10.1128/AEM.00891-08
PMCID: PMC2519281  PMID: 18567687
25.  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.
doi:10.1128/JB.185.20.5959-5966.2003
PMCID: PMC225043  PMID: 14526006

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