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1.  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
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.
PMCID: PMC2895300  PMID: 20437233
Polyhydroxybutyrate; Haloarchaea; Halococcus; Halobacterium; Haloalkaliphile
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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.
PMCID: PMC3182530  PMID: 17329792
6.  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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3242637  PMID: 22149750
7.  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.
PMCID: PMC1664681  PMID: 17008212
Mars; Martian meteorites; SNC; terrestrial analogues; iron isotopes; life
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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.
PMCID: PMC3495301  PMID: 22804926
11.  Bacterial Growth at the High Concentrations of Magnesium Sulfate Found in Martian Soils 
Astrobiology  2012;12(2):98-106.
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.
PMCID: PMC3277918  PMID: 22248384
12.  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.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3444409  PMID: 22747590
Archaea; Haloarchaea; Hypersaline; Solar saltern
13.  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
14.  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.
PMCID: PMC2519281  PMID: 18567687
15.  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
16.  Effect of Shadowing on Survival of Bacteria under Conditions Simulating the Martian Atmosphere and UV Radiation▿ †  
Spacecraft-associated spores and four non-spore-forming bacterial isolates were prepared in Atacama Desert soil suspensions and tested both in solution and in a desiccated state to elucidate the shadowing effect of soil particulates on bacterial survival under simulated Martian atmospheric and UV irradiation conditions. All non-spore-forming cells that were prepared in nutrient-depleted, 0.2-μm-filtered desert soil (DSE) microcosms and desiccated for 75 days on aluminum died, whereas cells prepared similarly in 60-μm-filtered desert soil (DS) microcosms survived such conditions. Among the bacterial cells tested, Microbacterium schleiferi and Arthrobacter sp. exhibited elevated resistance to 254-nm UV irradiation (low-pressure Hg lamp), and their survival indices were comparable to those of DS- and DSE-associated Bacillus pumilus spores. Desiccated DSE-associated spores survived exposure to full Martian UV irradiation (200 to 400 nm) for 5 min and were only slightly affected by Martian atmospheric conditions in the absence of UV irradiation. Although prolonged UV irradiation (5 min to 12 h) killed substantial portions of the spores in DSE microcosms (∼5- to 6-log reduction with Martian UV irradiation), dramatic survival of spores was apparent in DS-spore microcosms. The survival of soil-associated wild-type spores under Martian conditions could have repercussions for forward contamination of extraterrestrial environments, especially Mars.
PMCID: PMC2258572  PMID: 18083857
17.  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.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC1828056  PMID: 17346353
18.  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
19.  Niche adaptation by expansion and reprogramming of general transcription factors 
Experimental analysis of TFB family proteins in a halophilic archaeon reveals complex environment-dependent fitness contributions. Gene conversion events among these proteins can generate novel niche adaptation capabilities, a process that may have contributed to archaeal adaptation to extreme environments.
Evolution of archaeal lineages correlate with duplication events in the TFB family.Each TFB is required for adaptation to multiple environments.The relative fitness contributions of TFBs change with environmental context.Changes in the regulation of duplicated TFBs can generate new adaptation capabilities.
The evolutionary success of an organism depends on its ability to continually adapt to changes in the patterns of constant, periodic, and transient challenges within its environment. This process of ‘niche adaptation' requires reprogramming of the organism's environmental response networks by reorganizing interactions among diverse parts including environmental sensors, signal transducers, and transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulators. Gene duplications have been discovered to be one of the principal strategies in this process, especially for reprogramming of gene regulatory networks (GRNs). Whereas eukaryotes require dozens of factors for recruitment of RNA polymerase, archaea require just two general transcription factors (GTFs) that are orthologous to eukaryotic TFIIB (TFB in archaea) and TATA-binding protein (TBP) (Bell et al, 1998). Both of these GTFs have expanded extensively in nearly 50% of all archaea whose genomes have been fully sequenced. The phylogenetic analysis presented in this study reveal lineage-specific expansions of TFBs, suggesting that they might encode functionally specialized gene regulatory programs for the unique environments to which these organisms have adapted. This hypothesis is particularly appealing when we consider that the greatest expansion is observed within the group of halophilic archaea whose habitats are associated with routine and dynamic changes in a number of environmental factors including light, temperature, oxygen, salinity, and ionic composition (Rodriguez-Valera, 1993; Litchfield, 1998).
We have previously demonstrated that variations in the expanded set of TFBs (a through e) in Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 manifests at the level of physical interactions within and across the two families, their DNA-binding specificity, their differential regulation in varying environments, and, ultimately, on the large-scale segregation of transcription of all genes into overlapping yet distinct sets of functionally related groups (Facciotti et al, 2007). We have extended findings from this earlier study with a systematic survey of the fitness consequences of perturbing the TFB network of H. salinarum NRC-1 across 17 environments. Notably, each TFB conferred fitness in two or more environmental conditions tested, and the relative fitness contributions (see Table I) of the five TFBs varied significantly by environment. From an evolutionary perspective, the relationships among these fitness landscapes reveal that two classes of TFBs (c/g- and f-type) appear to have played an important role in the evolution of halophilic archaea by overseeing regulation of core physiological capabilities in these organisms. TFBs of the other clades (b/d and a/e) seem to have emerged much more recently through gene duplications or horizontal gene transfers (HGTs) and are being utilized for adaptation to specialized environmental conditions.
We also investigated higher-order functional interactions and relationships among the duplicated TFBs by performing competition experiments and by mapping genetic interactions in different environments. This demonstrated that depending on environmental context, the TFBs have strikingly different functional hierarchies and genetic interactions with one another. This is remarkable as it makes each TFB essential albeit at different times in a dynamically changing environment.
In order to understand the process by which such gene family expansions shape architecture and functioning of a GRN, we performed integrated analysis of phylogeny, physical interactions, regulation, and fitness landscapes of the seven TFBs in H. salinarum NRC-1. This revealed that evolution of both their protein-coding sequence and their promoter has been instrumental in the encoding of environment-specific regulatory programs. Importantly, the convergent and divergent evolution of regulation and binding properties of TFBs suggested that, aside from HGT and random mutations, a third plausible (and perhaps most interesting) mechanism for acquiring a novel TFB variant is through gene conversion. To test this hypothesis, we synthesized a novel TFBx by transferring TFBa/e clade-specific residues to a TFBd backbone, transformed this variant under the control of either the TFBd or the TFBe promoter (PtfbD or PtfbE) into three different host genetic backgrounds (Δura3 (parent), ΔtfbD, and ΔtfbE), and analyzed fitness and gene expression patterns during growth at 25 and 37°C. This showed that gene conversion events spanning the coding sequence and the promoter, environmental context, and genetic background of the host are all extremely influential in the functional integration of a TFB into the GRN. Importantly, this analysis suggested that altering the regulation of an existing set of expanded TFBs might be an efficient mechanism to reprogram the GRN to rapidly generate novel niche adaptation capability. We have confirmed this experimentally by increasing fitness merely by moving tfbE to PtfbD control, and by generating a completely novel phenotype (biofilm-like appearance) by overexpression of tfbE.
Altogether this study clearly demonstrates that archaea can rapidly generate novel niche adaptation programs by simply altering regulation of duplicated TFBs. This is significant because expansions in the TFB family is widespread in archaea, a class of organisms that not only represent 20% of biomass on earth but are also known to have colonized some of the most extreme environments (DeLong and Pace, 2001). This strategy for niche adaptation is further expanded through interactions of the multiple TFBs with members of other expanded TF families such as TBPs (Facciotti et al, 2007) and sequence-specific regulators (e.g. Lrp family (Peeters and Charlier, 2010)). This is analogous to combinatorial solutions for other complex biological problems such as recognition of pathogens by Toll-like receptors (Roach et al, 2005), generation of antibody diversity by V(D)J recombination (Early et al, 1980), and recognition and processing of odors (Malnic et al, 1999).
Numerous lineage-specific expansions of the transcription factor B (TFB) family in archaea suggests an important role for expanded TFBs in encoding environment-specific gene regulatory programs. Given the characteristics of hypersaline lakes, the unusually large numbers of TFBs in halophilic archaea further suggests that they might be especially important in rapid adaptation to the challenges of a dynamically changing environment. Motivated by these observations, we have investigated the implications of TFB expansions by correlating sequence variations, regulation, and physical interactions of all seven TFBs in Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 to their fitness landscapes, functional hierarchies, and genetic interactions across 2488 experiments covering combinatorial variations in salt, pH, temperature, and Cu stress. This systems analysis has revealed an elegant scheme in which completely novel fitness landscapes are generated by gene conversion events that introduce subtle changes to the regulation or physical interactions of duplicated TFBs. Based on these insights, we have introduced a synthetically redesigned TFB and altered the regulation of existing TFBs to illustrate how archaea can rapidly generate novel phenotypes by simply reprogramming their TFB regulatory network.
PMCID: PMC3261711  PMID: 22108796
evolution by gene family expansion; fitness; niche adaptation; reprogramming of gene regulatory network; transcription factor B
20.  Potassium ferrate [Fe(VI)] does not mediate self-sterilization of a surrogate mars soil 
BMC Microbiology  2003;3:4.
Martian soil is thought to be enriched with strong oxidants such as peroxides and/or iron in high oxidation states that might destroy biological materials. There is also a high flux of ultraviolet radiation at the surface of Mars. Thus, Mars may be inhospitable to life as we know it on Earth. We examined the hypothesis that if the soil of Mars contains ferrates [Fe(VI)], the strongest of the proposed oxidizing species, and also is exposed to high fluxes of UV radiation, it will be self-sterilizing.
Under ambient conditions (25°C, oxygen and water present) K2FeO4 mixed into sand mineralized some reactive organic molecules to CO2, while less reactive compounds were not degraded. Dried endospores of Bacillus subtilis incubated in a Mars surrogate soil comprised of dry silica sand containing 20% by weight K2FeO4 and under conditions similar to those now on Mars (extreme desiccation, cold, and a CO2-dominated atmosphere) were resistant to killing by the ferrate-enriched sand. Similar results were observed with permanganate. Spores in oxidant-enriched sand exposed to high fluxes of UV light were protected from the sporocidal activity of the radiation below about 5 mm depths.
Based on our data and previously published descriptions of ancient but dormant life forms on Earth, we suggest that if entities resembling bacterial endospores were produced at some point by life forms on Mars, they might still be present and viable, given appropriate germination conditions. Endospores delivered to Mars on spacecraft would possibly survive and potentially compromise life detection experiments.
PMCID: PMC153549  PMID: 12694634
21.  Circular Dichroism and Fluorescence Spectroscopy of Cysteinyl-tRNA Synthetase from Halobacterium salinarum ssp. NRC-1 Demonstrates that Group I Cations Are Particularly Effective in Providing Structure and Stability to This Halophilic Protein 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e89452.
Proteins from extremophiles have the ability to fold and remain stable in their extreme environment. Here, we investigate the presence of this effect in the cysteinyl-tRNA synthetase from Halobacterium salinarum ssp. NRC-1 (NRC-1), which was used as a model halophilic protein. The effects of salt on the structure and stability of NRC-1 and of E. coli CysRS were investigated through far-UV circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, and thermal denaturation melts. The CD of NRC-1 CysRS was examined in different group I and group II chloride salts to examine the effects of the metal ions. Potassium was observed to have the strongest effect on NRC-1 CysRS structure, with the other group I salts having reduced strength. The group II salts had little effect on the protein. This suggests that the halophilic adaptations in this protein are mediated by potassium. CD and fluorescence spectra showed structural changes taking place in NRC-1 CysRS over the concentration range of 0–3 M KCl, while the structure of E. coli CysRS was relatively unaffected. Salt was also shown to increase the thermal stability of NRC-1 CysRS since the melt temperature of the CysRS from NRC-1 was increased in the presence of high salt, whereas the E. coli enzyme showed a decrease. By characterizing these interactions, this study not only explains the stability of halophilic proteins in extremes of salt, but also helps us to understand why and how group I salts stabilize proteins in general.
PMCID: PMC3940603  PMID: 24594651
22.  Coordination of frontline defense mechanisms under severe oxidative stress 
Inference of an environmental and gene regulatory influence network (EGRINOS) by integrating transcriptional responses to H2O2 and paraquat (PQ) has revealed a multi-tiered oxidative stress (OS)-management program to transcriptionally coordinate three peroxidase/catalase enzymes, two superoxide dismutases, production of rhodopsins, carotenoids and gas vesicles, metal trafficking, and various other aspects of metabolism.ChIP-chip, microarray, and survival assays have validated important architectural aspects of this network, identified novel defense mechanisms (including two evolutionarily distant peroxidase enxymes), and showed that general transcription factors of the transcription factor B family have an important function in coordinating the OS response (OSR) despite their inability to directly sense ROS.A comparison of transcriptional responses to sub-lethal doses of H2O2 and PQ with predictions of these responses made by an EGRIN model generated earlier from responses to other environmental factors has confirmed that a significant fraction of the OSR is made up of a generalized component that is also observed in response to other stressors.Analysis of active regulons within environment and gene regulatory influence network for OS (EGRINOS) across diverse environmental conditions has identified the specialized component of oxidative stress response (OSR) that is triggered by sub-lethal OS, but not by other stressors, including sub-inhibitory levels of redox-active metals, extreme changes in oxygen tension, and a sub-lethal dose of γ rays.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), superoxide (O2−), and hydroxyl (OH−) radicals, are normal by-products of aerobic metabolism. Evolutionarily conserved mechanisms including detoxification enzymes (peroxidase/catalase and superoxide dismutase (SOD)) and free radical scavengers manage this endogenous production of ROS. OS is a condition reached when certain environmental stresses or genetic defects cause the production of ROS to exceed the management capacity. The damage to diverse cellular components including DNA, proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates resulting from OS (Imlay, 2003; Apel and Hirt, 2004; Perrone et al, 2008) is recognized as an important player in many diseases and in the aging process (Finkel, 2005).
We have applied a systems approach to characterize the OSR of an archaeal model organism, Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1. This haloarchaeon grows aerobically at 4.3 M salt concentration in which it routinely faces cycles of desiccation and rehydration, and increased ultraviolet radiation—both of which can increase the production of ROS (Farr and Kogoma, 1991; Oliver et al, 2001). We have reconstructed the physiological adjustments associated with management of excessive OS through the analysis of global transcriptional changes elicited by step exposure to growth sub-inhibitory and sub-lethal levels of H2O2 and PQ (a redox-cycling drug that produces O2−; Hassan and Fridovich, 1979) as well as during subsequent recovery from these stresses. We have integrated all of these data into a unified model for OSR to discover conditional functional links between protective mechanisms and normal aspects of metabolism. Subsequent phenotypic analysis of gene deletion strains has verified the conditional detoxification functions of three putative peroxidase/catalase enzymes, two SODs, and the protective function of rhodopsins under increased levels of H2O2 and PQ. Similarly, we have also validated ROS scavenging by carotenoids and flotation by gas vesicles as secondary mechanisms that may minimize OS.
Given the ubiquitous nature of OS, it is not entirely surprising that most organisms have evolved similar multiple lines of defense—both passive and active. Although such mechanisms have been extensively characterized using other model organisms, our integrated systems approach has uncovered additional protective mechanisms in H. salinarum (e.g. two evolutionarily distant peroxidase/catalase enzymes) and revealed a structure and hierarchy to the OSR through conditional regulatory associations among various components of the response. We have validated some aspects of the architecture of the regulatory network for managing OS by confirming physical protein–DNA interactions of six transcription factors (TFs) with promoters of genes they were predicted to influence in EGRINOS. Furthermore, we have also shown the consequence of deleting two of these TFs on transcript levels of genes they control and survival rate under OS. It is notable that these TFs are not directly associated with sensing ROS, but, rather, they have a general function in coordinating the overall response. This insight would not have been possible without constructing EGRINOS through systems integration of diverse datasets.
Although it has been known that OS is a component of diverse environmental stress conditions, we quantitatively show for the first time that much of the transcriptional responses induced by the two treatments could indeed have been predicted using a model constructed from the analysis of transcriptional responses to changes in other environmental factors (UV and γ-radiation, light, oxygen, and six metals). However, using specific examples we also reveal the specific components of the OSR that are triggered only under severe OS. Notably, this model of OSR gives a unified perspective of the interconnections among all of these generalized and OS-specific regulatory mechanisms.
Complexity of cellular response to oxidative stress (OS) stems from its wide-ranging damage to nucleic acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. We have constructed a systems model of OS response (OSR) for Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 in an attempt to understand the architecture of its regulatory network that coordinates this complex response. This has revealed a multi-tiered OS-management program to transcriptionally coordinate three peroxidase/catalase enzymes, two superoxide dismutases, production of rhodopsins, carotenoids and gas vesicles, metal trafficking, and various other aspects of metabolism. Through experimental validation of interactions within the OSR regulatory network, we show that despite their inability to directly sense reactive oxygen species, general transcription factors have an important function in coordinating this response. Remarkably, a significant fraction of this OSR was accurately recapitulated by a model that was earlier constructed from cellular responses to diverse environmental perturbations—this constitutes the general stress response component. Notwithstanding this observation, comparison of the two models has identified the coordination of frontline defense and repair systems by regulatory mechanisms that are triggered uniquely by severe OS and not by other environmental stressors, including sub-inhibitory levels of redox-active metals, extreme changes in oxygen tension, and a sub-lethal dose of γ rays.
PMCID: PMC2925529  PMID: 20664639
gene regulatory network; microbiology; oxidative stress
23.  Transcriptional profiling of the model Archaeon Halobacterium sp. NRC-1: responses to changes in salinity and temperature 
Saline Systems  2007;3:6.
The model halophile Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 was among the first Archaea to be completely sequenced and many post-genomic tools, including whole genome DNA microarrays are now being applied to its analysis. This extremophile displays tolerance to multiple stresses, including high salinity, extreme (non-mesophilic) temperatures, lack of oxygen, and ultraviolet and ionizing radiation.
In order to study the response of Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 to two common stressors, salinity and temperature, we used whole genome DNA microarrays to assay for changes in gene expression under differential growth conditions. Cultures grown aerobically in rich medium at 42°C were compared to cultures grown at elevated or reduced temperature and high or low salinity. The results obtained were analyzed using a custom database and microarray analysis tools. Growth under salt stress conditions resulted in the modulation of genes coding for many ion transporters, including potassium, phosphate, and iron transporters, as well as some peptide transporters and stress proteins. Growth at cold temperature altered the expression of genes involved in lipid metabolism, buoyant gas vesicles, and cold shock proteins. Heat shock showed induction of several known chaperone genes. The results showed that Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 cells are highly responsive to environmental changes at the level of gene expression.
Transcriptional profiling showed that Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 is highly responsive to its environment and provided insights into some of the specific responses at the level of gene expression. Responses to changes in salt conditions appear to be designed to minimize the loss of essential ionic species and abate possible toxic effects of others, while exposure to temperature extremes elicit responses to promote protein folding and limit factors responsible for growth inhibition. This work lays the foundation for further bioinformatic and genetic studies which will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the biology of a model halophilic Archaeon.
PMCID: PMC1971269  PMID: 17651475
24.  Phylogenetic analyses of some extremely halophilic archaea isolated from Dead Sea water, determined on the basis of their 16S rRNA sequences. 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  1996;62(10):3779-3786.
Twenty-two extremely halophilic aerobic archaeal strains were isolated from enrichments prepared from Dead Sea water samples collected 57 years ago. The isolates were phenotypically clustered into five different groups, and a representative from each group was chosen for further study. Almost the entire sequences of the 16S rRNA genes of these representatives, and of Haloarcula hispanica ATCC 33960, were determined to establish their phylogenetic positions. The sequences of these strains were compared to previously published sequences of 27 reference halophilic archaea (members of the family Halobacteriaceae) and two other archaea, Methanobacterium formicicum DSM 1312 and Methanospirillum hungatei DSM 864. Phylogenetic analysis using approximately 1,400 base comparisons of 16S rRNA-encoding gene sequences demonstrated that the five isolates clustered closely to species belonging to three different genera--Haloferax, Halobacterium, and Haloarcula. Strains E1 and E8 were closely related and identified as members of the species Haloferax volcanii, and strain E12 was closely related and identified as a member of the species Halobacterium salinarum. However, strains E2 and E11 clustered in the Haloarcula branch with Haloarcula hispanica as the closest relative at 98.9 and 98.8% similarity, respectively. Strains E2 and E11 could represent two new species of the genus Haloarcula. However, because strains of these two new species were isolated from a single source, they will not be named until additional strains are isolated from other sources and fully characterized.
PMCID: PMC168186  PMID: 8837434
25.  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

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