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1.  Fluorescence microscopy visualization of halomucin, a secreted 927 kDa protein surrounding Haloquadratum walsbyi cells 
At the time of its first publication, halomucin from Haloquadratum walsbyi strain HBSQ001 was the largest archaeal protein known (9159 aa). It has a predicted signal sequence, making it likely to be an extracellular or secreted protein. Best BLAST matches were found to be mammalian mucins that protect tissues to dehydration and chemical stress. It was hypothesized that halomucin participates in protection against desiccation by retaining water in a hull around the halophilic organisms that live at the limits of water activity. We visualized Haloquadratum cells by staining their intracellular polyhydroxybutyrate granules using Nile Blue. Halomucin was stained by immunofluorescence with antibodies generated against synthetic peptides derived from the halomucin amino acid sequence. Polyhydroxybutyrate stained cells were reconstructed in 3D which highlights not only the highly regular square shape but also the extreme flatness of Haloquadratum. Double-staining proves halomucin to be extracellular but to be only loosely associated to cells in agreement with its hypothesized function.
PMCID: PMC4378361  PMID: 25870593
halomucin; halophilic archaea; polyhydroxybutyrate; cell shape; Haloquadratum; immunofluorescence; protein secretion
2.  De Novo Sequences of Haloquadratum walsbyi from Lake Tyrrell, Australia, Reveal a Variable Genomic Landscape 
Archaea  2015;2015:875784.
Hypersaline systems near salt saturation levels represent an extreme environment, in which organisms grow and survive near the limits of life. One of the abundant members of the microbial communities in hypersaline systems is the square archaeon, Haloquadratum walsbyi. Utilizing a short-read metagenome from Lake Tyrrell, a hypersaline ecosystem in Victoria, Australia, we performed a comparative genomic analysis of H. walsbyi to better understand the extent of variation between strains/subspecies. Results revealed that previously isolated strains/subspecies do not fully describe the complete repertoire of the genomic landscape present in H. walsbyi. Rearrangements, insertions, and deletions were observed for the Lake Tyrrell derived Haloquadratum genomes and were supported by environmental de novo sequences, including shifts in the dominant genomic landscape of the two most abundant strains. Analysis pertaining to halomucins indicated that homologs for this large protein are not a feature common for all species of Haloquadratum. Further, we analyzed ATP-binding cassette transporters (ABC-type transporters) for evidence of niche partitioning between different strains/subspecies. We were able to identify unique and variable transporter subunits from all five genomes analyzed and the de novo environmental sequences, suggesting that differences in nutrient and carbon source acquisition may play a role in maintaining distinct strains/subspecies.
PMCID: PMC4330952  PMID: 25709557
3.  Environmental genomics of "Haloquadratum walsbyi" in a saltern crystallizer indicates a large pool of accessory genes in an otherwise coherent species 
BMC Genomics  2006;7:171.
Mature saturated brine (crystallizers) communities are largely dominated (>80% of cells) by the square halophilic archaeon "Haloquadratum walsbyi". The recent cultivation of the strain HBSQ001 and thesequencing of its genome allows comparison with the metagenome of this taxonomically simplified environment. Similar studies carried out in other extreme environments have revealed very little diversity in gene content among the cell lineages present.
The metagenome of the microbial community of a crystallizer pond has been analyzed by end sequencing a 2000 clone fosmid library and comparing the sequences obtained with the genome sequence of "Haloquadratum walsbyi". The genome of the sequenced strain was retrieved nearly complete within this environmental DNA library. However, many ORF's that could be ascribed to the "Haloquadratum" metapopulation by common genome characteristics or scaffolding to the strain genome were not present in the specific sequenced isolate. Particularly, three regions of the sequenced genome were associated with multiple rearrangements and the presence of different genes from the metapopulation. Many transposition and phage related genes were found within this pool which, together with the associated atypical GC content in these areas, supports lateral gene transfer mediated by these elements as the most probable genetic cause of this variability. Additionally, these sequences were highly enriched in putative regulatory and signal transduction functions.
These results point to a large pan-genome (total gene repertoire of the genus/species) even in this highly specialized extremophile and at a single geographic location. The extensive gene repertoire is what might be expected of a population that exploits a diverse nutrient pool, resulting from the degradation of biomass produced at lower salinities.
PMCID: PMC1560387  PMID: 16820057
4.  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
5.  Microbial Diversity in Maras Salterns, a Hypersaline Environment in the Peruvian Andes 
Maras salterns are located 3,380 m above sea level in the Peruvian Andes. These salterns consist of more than 3,000 little ponds which are not interconnected and act as crystallizers where salt precipitates. These ponds are fed by hypersaline spring water rich in sodium and chloride. The microbiota inhabiting these salterns was examined by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), 16S rRNA gene clone library analysis, and cultivation techniques. The total counts per milliliter in the ponds were around 2 × 106 to 3 × 106 cells/ml, while the spring water contained less than 100 cells/ml and did not yield any detectable FISH signal. The microbiota inhabiting the ponds was dominated (80 to 86% of the total counts) by Archaea, while Bacteria accounted for 10 to 13% of the 4′,6′-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) counts. A total of 239 16S rRNA gene clones were analyzed (132 Archaea clones and 107 Bacteria clones). According to the clone libraries, the archaeal assemblage was dominated by microorganisms related to the cosmopolitan square archaeon “Haloquadra walsbyi,” although a substantial number of the sequences in the libraries (31% of the 16S rRNA gene archaeal clones) were related to Halobacterium sp., which is not normally found in clone libraries from solar salterns. All the bacterial clones were closely related to each other and to the γ-proteobacterium “Pseudomonas halophila” DSM 3050. FISH analysis with a probe specific for this bacterial assemblage revealed that it accounted for 69 to 76% of the total bacterial counts detected with a Bacteria-specific probe. When pond water was used to inoculate solid media containing 25% total salts, both extremely halophilic Archaea and Bacteria were isolated. Archaeal isolates were not related to the isolates in clone libraries, although several bacterial isolates were very closely related to the “P. halophila” cluster found in the libraries. As observed for other hypersaline environments, extremely halophilic bacteria that had ecological relevance seemed to be easier to culture than their archaeal counterparts.
PMCID: PMC1489619  PMID: 16751493
6.  The Function of Gas Vesicles in Halophilic Archaeaand Bacteria: Theories and Experimental Evidence 
Life : Open Access Journal  2012;3(1):1-20.
A few extremely halophilic Archaea (Halobacterium salinarum, Haloquadratum walsbyi, Haloferax mediterranei, Halorubrum vacuolatum, Halogeometricum borinquense, Haloplanus spp.) possess gas vesicles that bestow buoyancy on the cells. Gas vesicles are also produced by the anaerobic endospore-forming halophilic Bacteria Sporohalobacter lortetii and Orenia sivashensis. We have extensive information on the properties of gas vesicles in Hbt. salinarum and Hfx. mediterranei and the regulation of their formation. Different functions were suggested for gas vesicle synthesis: buoying cells towards oxygen-rich surface layers in hypersaline water bodies to prevent oxygen limitation, reaching higher light intensities for the light-driven proton pump bacteriorhodopsin, positioning the cells optimally for light absorption, light shielding, reducing the cytoplasmic volume leading to a higher surface-area-to-volume ratio (for the Archaea) and dispersal of endospores (for the anaerobic spore-forming Bacteria). Except for Hqr. walsbyi which abounds in saltern crystallizer brines, gas-vacuolate halophiles are not among the dominant life forms in hypersaline environments. There only has been little research on gas vesicles in natural communities of halophilic microorganisms, and the few existing studies failed to provide clear evidence for their possible function. This paper summarizes the current status of the different theories why gas vesicles may provide a selective advantage to some halophilic microorganisms.
PMCID: PMC4187190  PMID: 25371329
gas vesicles; Halobacterium; Haloferax; Haloquadratum; Haloplanus; Halogeometricum; bacteriorhodopsin; oxygen
7.  Lipids of the ultra-thin square halophilic archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi  
Archaea  2008;2(3):177-183.
The lipid composition of the extremely halophilic archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi was investigated by thin-layer chromatography and electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry. The analysis of neutral lipids showed the presence of vitamin MK-8, squalene, carotene, bacterioruberin and several retinal isomers. The major polar lipids were phosphatidylglycerophosphate methyl ester, phosphatidylglycerosulfate, phosphatidylglycerol and sulfated diglycosyl diether lipid. Among cardiolipins, the tetra-phytanyl or dimeric phospholipids, only traces of bisphosphatidylglycerol were detected. When the cells were exposed to hypotonic medium, no changes in the membrane lipid composition occurred. Distinguishing it from other extreme halophiles of the Halobacteriaceae family, the osmotic stress did not induce the neo-synthesis of cardiolipins in H. walsbyi. The difference may depend on the three-laminar structure of the cell wall, which differs significantly from that of other Haloarchaea.
PMCID: PMC2685597  PMID: 19054744
Archaea; archaeal phospholipids; ether lipids; Halobacteriaceae
8.  Reconstructing Viral Genomes from the Environment Using Fosmid Clones: The Case of Haloviruses 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33802.
Metaviriomes, the viral genomes present in an environment, have been studied by direct sequencing of the viral DNA or by cloning in small insert libraries. The short reads generated by both approaches make it very difficult to assemble and annotate such flexible genomic entities. Many environmental viruses belong to unknown groups or prey on uncultured and little known cellular lineages, and hence might not be present in databases.
Methodology and Principal Findings
Here we have used a different approach, the cloning of viral DNA into fosmids before sequencing, to obtain natural contigs that are close to the size of a viral genome. We have studied a relatively low diversity extreme environment: saturated NaCl brines, which simplifies the analysis and interpretation of the data. Forty-two different viral genomes were retrieved, and some of these were almost complete, and could be tentatively identified as head-tail phages (Caudovirales).
Conclusions and Significance
We found a cluster of phage genomes that most likely infect Haloquadratum walsbyi, the square archaeon and major component of the community in these hypersaline habitats. The identity of the prey could be confirmed by the presence of CRISPR spacer sequences shared by the virus and one of the available strain genomes. Other viral clusters detected appeared to prey on the Nanohaloarchaea and on the bacterium Salinibacter ruber, covering most of the diversity of microbes found in this type of environment. This approach appears then as a viable alternative to describe metaviriomes in a much more detailed and reliable way than by the more common approaches based on direct sequencing. An example of transfer of a CRISPR cluster including repeats and spacers was accidentally found supporting the dynamic nature and frequent transfer of this peculiar prokaryotic mechanism of cell protection.
PMCID: PMC3316494  PMID: 22479446
9.  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.
PMCID: PMC4438321  PMID: 25500507
10.  Haloquadratum walsbyi : Limited Diversity in a Global Pond 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20968.
Haloquadratum walsbyi commonly dominates the microbial flora of hypersaline waters. Its cells are extremely fragile squares requiring >14%(w/v) salt for growth, properties that should limit its dispersal and promote geographical isolation and divergence. To assess this, the genome sequences of two isolates recovered from sites at near maximum distance on Earth, were compared.
Principal Findings
Both chromosomes are 3.1 MB in size, and 84% of each sequence was highly similar to the other (98.6% identity), comprising the core sequence. ORFs of this shared sequence were completely synteneic (conserved in genomic orientation and order), without inversion or rearrangement. Strain-specific insertions/deletions could be precisely mapped, often allowing the genetic events to be inferred. Many inferred deletions were associated with short direct repeats (4–20 bp). Deletion-coupled insertions are frequent, producing different sequences at identical positions. In cases where the inserted and deleted sequences are homologous, this leads to variant genes in a common synteneic background (as already described by others). Cas/CRISPR systems are present in C23T but have been lost in HBSQ001 except for a few spacer remnants. Numerous types of mobile genetic elements occur in both strains, most of which appear to be active, and with some specifically targetting others. Strain C23T carries two ∼6 kb plasmids that show similarity to halovirus His1 and to sequences nearby halovirus/plasmid gene clusters commonly found in haloarchaea.
Deletion-coupled insertions show that Hqr. walsbyi evolves by uptake and precise integration of foreign DNA, probably originating from close relatives. Change is also driven by mobile genetic elements but these do not by themselves explain the atypically low gene coding density found in this species. The remarkable genome conservation despite the presence of active systems for genome rearrangement implies both an efficient global dispersal system, and a high selective fitness for this species.
PMCID: PMC3119063  PMID: 21701686
11.  Morphological and Structural Aspects of the Extremely Halophilic Archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e18653.
Ultrathin square cell Haloquadratum walsbyi from the Archaea domain are the most abundant microorganisms in the hypersaline water of coastal salterns and continental salt lakes. In this work, we explore the cell surface of these microorganisms using amplitude-modulation atomic-force microscopy in nearly physiological conditions. We demonstrate the presence of a regular corrugation with a periodicity of 16–20 nm attributed to the surface layer (S-layer) protein lattice, striped domains asymmetrically distributed on the cell faces and peculiar bulges correlated with the presence of intracellular granules. Besides, subsequent images of cell evolution during the drying process indicate the presence of an external capsule that might correspond to the giant protein halomucin, predicted by the genome but never before observed by other microscopy studies.
PMCID: PMC3084702  PMID: 21559517
12.  Patterns of microbial diversity along a salinity gradient in the Guerrero Negro solar saltern, Baja CA Sur, Mexico 
The goal of this study was to use environmental sequencing of 16S rRNA and bop genes to compare the diversity of planktonic bacteria and archaea across ponds with increasing salinity in the Exportadora de Sal (ESSA) evaporative saltern in Guerrero Negro, Baja CA S., Mexico. We hypothesized that diverse communities of heterotrophic bacteria and archaea would be found in the ESSA ponds, but that bacterial diversity would decrease relative to archaea at the highest salinities. Archaeal 16S rRNA diversity was higher in Ponds 11 and 12 (370 and 380 g l−1 total salts, respectively) compared to Pond 9 (180 g l−1 total salts). Both Pond 11 and 12 communities had high representation (47 and 45% of clones, respectively) by Haloquadratum walsbyi-like (99% similarity) lineages. The archaeal community in Pond 9 was dominated (79%) by a single uncultured phylotype with 99% similarity to sequences recovered from the Sfax saltern in Tunisia. This pattern was mirrored in bop gene diversity with greater numbers of highly supported phylotypes including many Haloquadratum-like sequences from the two highest salinity ponds. In Pond 9, most bop sequences, were not closely related to sequences in databases. Bacterial 16S rRNA diversity was higher than archaeal in both Pond 9 and Pond 12 samples, but not Pond 11, where a non-Salinibacter lineage within the Bacteroidetes >98% similar to environmental clones recovered from Lake Tuz in Turkey and a saltern in Chula Vista, CA was most abundant (69% of community). This OTU was also the most abundant in Pond 12, but only represented 14% of clones in the more diverse pond. The most abundant OTU in Pond 9 (33% of community) was 99% similar to an uncultured gammaproteobacterial clone from the Salton Sea. Results suggest that the communities of saltern bacteria and archaea vary even in ponds with similar salinity and further investigation into the ecology of diverse, uncultured halophile communities is warranted.
PMCID: PMC3868825  PMID: 24391633
halophile; gradient; saltern; 16S rRNA gene; bop gene; haloarchaea
13.  Metabolism of halophilic archaea 
Extremophiles   2008;12(2):177-196.
In spite of their common hypersaline environment, halophilic archaea are surprisingly different in their nutritional demands and metabolic pathways. The metabolic diversity of halophilic archaea was investigated at the genomic level through systematic metabolic reconstruction and comparative analysis of four completely sequenced species: Halobacterium salinarum, Haloarcula marismortui, Haloquadratum walsbyi, and the haloalkaliphile Natronomonas pharaonis. The comparative study reveals different sets of enzyme genes amongst halophilic archaea, e.g. in glycerol degradation, pentose metabolism, and folate synthesis. The carefully assessed metabolic data represent a reliable resource for future system biology approaches as it also links to current experimental data on (halo)archaea from the literature.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00792-008-0138-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC2262144  PMID: 18278431
Metabolism; Archaea; Haloarchaea; Halobacterium salinarum; Pathway database; Metabolic pathways; Enzymes; Comparative genomics
14.  Phylogenomic analysis of proteins that are distinctive of Archaea and its main subgroups and the origin of methanogenesis 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:86.
The Archaea are highly diverse in terms of their physiology, metabolism and ecology. Presently, very few molecular characteristics are known that are uniquely shared by either all archaea or the different main groups within archaea. The evolutionary relationships among different groups within the Euryarchaeota branch are also not clearly understood.
We have carried out comprehensive analyses on each open reading frame (ORFs) in the genomes of 11 archaea (3 Crenarchaeota – Aeropyrum pernix, Pyrobaculum aerophilum and Sulfolobus acidocaldarius; 8 Euryarchaeota – Pyrococcus abyssi, Methanococcus maripaludis, Methanopyrus kandleri, Methanococcoides burtonii, Halobacterium sp. NCR-1, Haloquadratum walsbyi, Thermoplasma acidophilum and Picrophilus torridus) to search for proteins that are unique to either all Archaea or for its main subgroups. These studies have identified 1448 proteins or ORFs that are distinctive characteristics of Archaea and its various subgroups and whose homologues are not found in other organisms. Six of these proteins are unique to all Archaea, 10 others are only missing in Nanoarchaeum equitans and a large number of other proteins are specific for various main groups within the Archaea (e.g. Crenarchaeota, Euryarchaeota, Sulfolobales and Desulfurococcales, Halobacteriales, Thermococci, Thermoplasmata, all methanogenic archaea or particular groups of methanogens). Of particular importance is the observation that 31 proteins are uniquely present in virtually all methanogens (including M. kandleri) and 10 additional proteins are only found in different methanogens as well as A. fulgidus. In contrast, no protein was exclusively shared by various methanogen and any of the Halobacteriales or Thermoplasmatales. These results strongly indicate that all methanogenic archaea form a monophyletic group exclusive of other archaea and that this lineage likely evolved from Archaeoglobus. In addition, 15 proteins that are uniquely shared by M. kandleri and Methanobacteriales suggest a close evolutionary relationship between them. In contrast to the phylogenomics studies, a monophyletic grouping of archaea is not supported by phylogenetic analyses based on protein sequences.
The identified archaea-specific proteins provide novel molecular markers or signature proteins that are distinctive characteristics of Archaea and all of its major subgroups. The species distributions of these proteins provide novel insights into the evolutionary relationships among different groups within Archaea, particularly regarding the origin of methanogenesis. Most of these proteins are of unknown function and further studies should lead to discovery of novel biochemical and physiological characteristics that are unique to either all archaea or its different subgroups.
PMCID: PMC1852104  PMID: 17394648
15.  Ser262 determines the chloride-dependent colour tuning of a new halorhodopsin from Haloquadratum walsbyi 
Bioscience Reports  2012;32(Pt 5):501-509.
Light is an important environmental signal for all organisms on earth because it is essential for physiological signalling and the regulation of most biological systems. Halophiles found in salt-saturated ponds encode various archaeal rhodopsins and thereby harvest various wavelengths of light either for ion transportation or as sensory mediators. HR (halorhodopsin), one of the microbial rhodopsins, senses yellow light and transports chloride or other halides into the cytoplasm to maintain the osmotic balance during cell growth, and it exists almost ubiquitously in all known halobacteria. To date, only two HRs, isolated from HsHR (Halobacterium salinarum HR) and NpHR (Natronomonas pharaonis HR), have been characterized. In the present study, two new HRs, HmHR (Haloarcula marismortui HR) and HwHR (Haloquadratum walsbyi HR), were functionally overexpressed in Escherichia coli, and the maximum absorbance (λmax) of the purified proteins, the light-driven chloride uptake and the chloride-binding affinity were measured. The results showed them to have similar properties to two HRs reported previously. However, the λmax of HwHR is extremely consistent in a wide range of salt/chloride concentrations, which had not been observed previously. A structural-based sequence alignment identified a single serine residue at 262 in HwHR, which is typically a conserved alanine in all other known HRs. A Ser262 to alanine replacement in HwHR eliminated the chloride-independent colour tuning, whereas an Ala246 to serine mutagenesis in HsHR transformed it to have chloride-independent colour tuning similar to that of HwHR. Thus Ser262 is a key residue for the mechanism of chloride-dependent colour tuning in HwHR.
PMCID: PMC3475450  PMID: 22716305
chloride affinity; halorhodopsin; light-driven chloride pump; photocycle; spectral tuning; site-directed evolution; BR, bacteriorhodopsin; CCCP, carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone; DDM, n-dodecyl-β-D-maltoside; HR, halorhodopsin; HsHR, Halobacterium salinarum HR; HmHR, Haloarcula marismortui HR; HwHR, Haloquadratum walsbyi HR; LB, Luria–Bertani; Ni-NTA, Ni2+-nitrilotriacetate; NpHR, Natronomonas pharaonis HR; SR, sensory rhodopsin
16.  Chromatin is an ancient innovation conserved between Archaea and Eukarya 
eLife  2012;1:e00078.
The eukaryotic nucleosome is the fundamental unit of chromatin, comprising a protein octamer that wraps ∼147 bp of DNA and has essential roles in DNA compaction, replication and gene expression. Nucleosomes and chromatin have historically been considered to be unique to eukaryotes, yet studies of select archaea have identified homologs of histone proteins that assemble into tetrameric nucleosomes. Here we report the first archaeal genome-wide nucleosome occupancy map, as observed in the halophile Haloferax volcanii. Nucleosome occupancy was compared with gene expression by compiling a comprehensive transcriptome of Hfx. volcanii. We found that archaeal transcripts possess hallmarks of eukaryotic chromatin structure: nucleosome-depleted regions at transcriptional start sites and conserved −1 and +1 promoter nucleosomes. Our observations demonstrate that histones and chromatin architecture evolved before the divergence of Archaea and Eukarya, suggesting that the fundamental role of chromatin in the regulation of gene expression is ancient.
eLife digest
Single-celled microorganisms called archaea are one of the three domains of cellular life, along with bacteria and eukaryotes. Archaea are similar to bacteria in that they do not have nuclei, but genetically they have more in common with eukaryotes. Archaea are found in a wide range of habitats including the human colon, marshlands, the ocean and extreme environments such as hot springs and salt lakes.
It has been known since the 1990s that the DNA of archaea is wrapped around histones to form complexes that closely resemble the nucleosomes found in eukaryotes, albeit with four rather than eight histone subunits. Nucleosomes are the fundamental units of chromatin, the highly-ordered and compact structure that all the DNA in a cell is packed into. Now we know exactly how many nucleosomes are present in a given cell for some eukaryotes, notably yeast, and to a good approximation we know the position of each nucleosome during a variety of metabolic states and physiological conditions. We can also quantify the nucleosome occupancy, which is measure of the length of time that the nucleosomes spend in contact with the DNA: this is a critical piece of information because it determines the level of access that other proteins, including those that regulate gene expression, have to the DNA. These advances have been driven in large part by advances in technology, notably high-density microarrays for genome wide-studies of nucleosome occupancy, and massively parallel sequencing for direct nucleosome sequencing.
Ammar et al. have used these techniques to explore how the DNA of Haloferax volcanii, a species of archaea that thrives in the hyper-salty waters of the Dead Sea, is organized on a genome-wide basis. Despite some clear differences between the genomes of archaea and eukaryotes—for example, genomic DNA is typically circular in archaea and linear in eukaryotes—they found that the genome of Hfx. volcanii is organized into chromatin in a way that is remarkably similar to that seen in all eukaryotic genomes studied to date. This is surprising given that the chromatin in eukaryotes is confined to the nucleus, whereas there are no such constraints in archaea. In particular, Ammar et al. found that those regions of the DNA near the ends of genes that mark where the transcription of the DNA into RNA should begin and end contain have lower nucleosome occupancy than other regions. Moreover, the overall level of occupancy in Hfx. volcanii was twice that of eukaryotes, which is what one would expect given that nucleosomes in archaea contain half as many histone subunits as nucleosomes in eukaryotes. Ammar et al. also confirmed that that the degree of nucleosome occupancy is correlated with gene expression.
These two findings—the similarities between the chromatin in archaea and eukaryotes, and the correlation between nucleosome occupancy and gene expression in archaea—raise an interesting evolutionary possibility: the initial function of nucleosomes and chromatin formation might have been for the regulation of gene expression rather than the packaging of DNA. This is consistent with two decades of research that has shown that there is an extraordinary and complex relationship between the structure of chromatin and the process of gene expression. It is possible, therefore, that as the early eukaryotes evolved, nucleosomes and chromatin started to package DNA into compact structures that, among other things, helped to prevent DNA damage, and that this subsequently enabled the early eukaryotes to flourish.
PMCID: PMC3510453  PMID: 23240084
Haloferax volcanii; Nucleosome; Chromatin; Transcriptome; RNA-seq; Archaea; Other
17.  Genetic and Physical Mapping of DNA Replication Origins in Haloferax volcanii 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(5):e77.
The halophilic archaeon Haloferax volcanii has a multireplicon genome, consisting of a main chromosome, three secondary chromosomes, and a plasmid. Genes for the initiator protein Cdc6/Orc1, which are commonly located adjacent to archaeal origins of DNA replication, are found on all replicons except plasmid pHV2. However, prediction of DNA replication origins in H. volcanii is complicated by the fact that this species has no less than 14 cdc6/orc1 genes. We have used a combination of genetic, biochemical, and bioinformatic approaches to map DNA replication origins in H. volcanii. Five autonomously replicating sequences were found adjacent to cdc6/orc1 genes and replication initiation point mapping was used to confirm that these sequences function as bidirectional DNA replication origins in vivo. Pulsed field gel analyses revealed that cdc6/orc1-associated replication origins are distributed not only on the main chromosome (2.9 Mb) but also on pHV1 (86 kb), pHV3 (442 kb), and pHV4 (690 kb) replicons. Gene inactivation studies indicate that linkage of the initiator gene to the origin is not required for replication initiation, and genetic tests with autonomously replicating plasmids suggest that the origin located on pHV1 and pHV4 may be dominant to the principal chromosomal origin. The replication origins we have identified appear to show a functional hierarchy or differential usage, which might reflect the different replication requirements of their respective chromosomes. We propose that duplication of H. volcanii replication origins was a prerequisite for the multireplicon structure of this genome, and that this might provide a means for chromosome-specific replication control under certain growth conditions. Our observations also suggest that H. volcanii is an ideal organism for studying how replication of four replicons is regulated in the context of the archaeal cell cycle.
Author Summary
Haloferax volcanii is a member of the archaea, which are renowned for thriving in extreme environments. Archaea have circular chromosomes like bacteria but use enzymes similar to those found in eukaryotes to replicate their DNA. Few archaeal species have systems for genetics, and this has limited our understanding of DNA replication. We used genetics to map the chromosomal sites (origins) at which DNA replication initiates in H. volcanii. This species has a multipart genome comprising one main chromosome, three secondary chromosomes, and a plasmid. Five DNA replication origins were found and confirmed to function in vivo. All are adjacent to genes for the initiator protein Cdc6/Orc1, a common feature of archaeal replication origins. Two of the sequences are located on the main chromosome, confirming that multiple origins are often used to replicate circular chromosomes in archaea. Intriguingly, one of the origins from a secondary chromosome appears “dominant” to the principal chromosomal origin, suggesting either a hierarchy or differential usage of origins. This might reflect the different replication requirements of their respective chromosomes. Given the ease of genetic manipulation, H. volcanii holds great promise for studying how replication of four chromosomes is regulated in the context of the archaeal cell cycle.
PMCID: PMC1868953  PMID: 17511521
18.  Diversity of Haloquadratum and other haloarchaea in three, geographically distant, Australian saltern crystallizer ponds 
Extremophiles   2009;14(2):161-169.
Haloquadratum walsbyi is frequently a dominant member of the microbial communities in hypersaline waters. 16S rRNA gene sequences indicate that divergence within this species is very low but relatively few sites have been examined, particularly in the southern hemisphere. The diversity of Haloquadratum was examined in three coastal, but geographically distant saltern crystallizer ponds in Australia, using both culture-independent and culture-dependent methods. Two 97%-OTU, comprising Haloquadratum- and Halorubrum-related sequences, were shared by all three sites, with the former OTU representing about 40% of the sequences recovered at each site. Sequences 99.5% identical to that of Hqr. walsbyi C23T were present at all three sites and, overall, 98% of the Haloquadratum-related sequences displayed ≤2% divergence from that of the type strain. While haloarchaeal diversity at each site was relatively low (9–16 OTUs), seven phylogroups (clones and/or isolates) and 4 different clones showed ≤90% sequence identity to classified taxa, and appear to represent novel genera. Six of these branched together in phylogenetic tree reconstructions, forming a clade (MSP8-clade) whose members were only distantly related to classified taxa. Such sequences have only rarely been previously detected but were found at all three Australian crystallizers.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00792-009-0295-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC2832888  PMID: 20091074
Archaea; Halobacteria; Halobacteriaceae; Hypersaline; Cultivation; Biodiversity
19.  New Abundant Microbial Groups in Aquatic Hypersaline Environments 
Scientific Reports  2011;1:135.
We describe the microbiota of two hypersaline saltern ponds, one of intermediate salinity (19%) and a NaCl saturated crystallizer pond (37%) using pyrosequencing. The analyses of these metagenomes (nearly 784 Mb) reaffirmed the vast dominance of Haloquadratum walsbyi but also revealed novel, abundant and previously unsuspected microbial groups. We describe for the first time, a group of low GC Actinobacteria, related to freshwater Actinobacteria, abundant in low and intermediate salinities. Metagenomic assembly revealed three new abundant microbes: a low-GC euryarchaeon with the lowest GC content described for any euryarchaeon, a high-GC euryarchaeon and a gammaproteobacterium related to Alkalilimnicola and Nitrococcus. Multiple displacement amplification and sequencing of the genome from a single archaeal cell of the new low GC euryarchaeon suggest a photoheterotrophic and polysaccharide-degrading lifestyle and its relatedness to the recently described lineage of Nanohaloarchaea. These discoveries reveal the combined power of an unbiased metagenomic and single cell genomic approach.
PMCID: PMC3216616  PMID: 22355652
20.  Low-pass sequencing for microbial comparative genomics 
BMC Genomics  2004;5:3.
We studied four extremely halophilic archaea by low-pass shotgun sequencing: (1) the metabolically versatile Haloarcula marismortui; (2) the non-pigmented Natrialba asiatica; (3) the psychrophile Halorubrum lacusprofundi and (4) the Dead Sea isolate Halobaculum gomorrense. Approximately one thousand single pass genomic sequences per genome were obtained. The data were analyzed by comparative genomic analyses using the completed Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 genome as a reference. Low-pass shotgun sequencing is a simple, inexpensive, and rapid approach that can readily be performed on any cultured microbe.
As expected, the four archaeal halophiles analyzed exhibit both bacterial and eukaryotic characteristics as well as uniquely archaeal traits. All five halophiles exhibit greater than sixty percent GC content and low isoelectric points (pI) for their predicted proteins. Multiple insertion sequence (IS) elements, often involved in genome rearrangements, were identified in H. lacusprofundi and H. marismortui. The core biological functions that govern cellular and genetic mechanisms of H. sp. NRC-1 appear to be conserved in these four other halophiles. Multiple TATA box binding protein (TBP) and transcription factor IIB (TFB) homologs were identified from most of the four shotgunned halophiles. The reconstructed molecular tree of all five halophiles shows a large divergence between these species, but with the closest relationship being between H. sp. NRC-1 and H. lacusprofundi.
Despite the diverse habitats of these species, all five halophiles share (1) high GC content and (2) low protein isoelectric points, which are characteristics associated with environmental exposure to UV radiation and hypersalinity, respectively. Identification of multiple IS elements in the genome of H. lacusprofundi and H. marismortui suggest that genome structure and dynamic genome reorganization might be similar to that previously observed in the IS-element rich genome of H. sp. NRC-1. Identification of multiple TBP and TFB homologs in these four halophiles are consistent with the hypothesis that different types of complex transcriptional regulation may occur through multiple TBP-TFB combinations in response to rapidly changing environmental conditions. Low-pass shotgun sequence analyses of genomes permit extensive and diverse analyses, and should be generally useful for comparative microbial genomics.
PMCID: PMC331400  PMID: 14718067
21.  Microarray Analysis in the Archaeon Halobacterium salinarum Strain R1 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(10):e1064.
Phototrophy of the extremely halophilic archaeon Halobacterium salinarum was explored for decades. The research was mainly focused on the expression of bacteriorhodopsin and its functional properties. In contrast, less is known about genome wide transcriptional changes and their impact on the physiological adaptation to phototrophy. The tool of choice to record transcriptional profiles is the DNA microarray technique. However, the technique is still rarely used for transcriptome analysis in archaea.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We developed a whole-genome DNA microarray based on our sequence data of the Hbt. salinarum strain R1 genome. The potential of our tool is exemplified by the comparison of cells growing under aerobic and phototrophic conditions, respectively. We processed the raw fluorescence data by several stringent filtering steps and a subsequent MAANOVA analysis. The study revealed a lot of transcriptional differences between the two cell states. We found that the transcriptional changes were relatively weak, though significant. Finally, the DNA microarray data were independently verified by a real-time PCR analysis.
This is the first DNA microarray analysis of Hbt. salinarum cells that were actually grown under phototrophic conditions. By comparing the transcriptomics data with current knowledge we could show that our DNA microarray tool is well applicable for transcriptome analysis in the extremely halophilic archaeon Hbt. salinarum. The reliability of our tool is based on both the high-quality array of DNA probes and the stringent data handling including MAANOVA analysis. Among the regulated genes more than 50% had unknown functions. This underlines the fact that haloarchaeal phototrophy is still far away from being completely understood. Hence, the data recorded in this study will be subject to future systems biology analysis.
PMCID: PMC2020435  PMID: 17957248
22.  Generation of comprehensive transposon insertion mutant library for the model archaeon, Haloferax volcanii, and its use for gene discovery 
BMC Biology  2014;12:103.
Archaea share fundamental properties with bacteria and eukaryotes. Yet, they also possess unique attributes, which largely remain poorly characterized. Haloferax volcanii is an aerobic, moderately halophilic archaeon that can be grown in defined media. It serves as an excellent archaeal model organism to study the molecular mechanisms of biological processes and cellular responses to changes in the environment. Studies on haloarchaea have been impeded by the lack of efficient genetic screens that would facilitate the identification of protein functions and respective metabolic pathways.
Here, we devised an insertion mutagenesis strategy that combined Mu in vitro DNA transposition and homologous-recombination-based gene targeting in H. volcanii. We generated an insertion mutant library, in which the clones contained a single genomic insertion. From the library, we isolated pigmentation-defective and auxotrophic mutants, and the respective insertions pinpointed a number of genes previously known to be involved in carotenoid and amino acid biosynthesis pathways, thus validating the performance of the methodologies used. We also identified mutants that had a transposon insertion in a gene encoding a protein of unknown or putative function, demonstrating that novel roles for non-annotated genes could be assigned.
We have generated, for the first time, a random genomic insertion mutant library for a halophilic archaeon and used it for efficient gene discovery. The library will facilitate the identification of non-essential genes behind any specific biochemical pathway. It represents a significant step towards achieving a more complete understanding of the unique characteristics of halophilic archaea.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12915-014-0103-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4300041  PMID: 25488358
Haloferax volcanii; Halophilic archaea; Insertion mutant library; Mu transposition; MuA protein; Gene discovery
23.  The uvrA, uvrB and uvrC genes are required for repair of ultraviolet light induced DNA photoproducts in Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 
Saline Systems  2006;2:11.
Sequenced archaeal genomes contain a variety of bacterial and eukaryotic DNA repair gene homologs, but relatively little is known about how these microorganisms actually perform DNA repair. At least some archaea, including the extreme halophile Halobacterium sp. NRC-1, are able to repair ultraviolet light (UV) induced DNA damage in the absence of light-dependent photoreactivation but this 'dark' repair capacity remains largely uncharacterized. Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 possesses homologs of the bacterial uvrA, uvrB, and uvrC nucleotide excision repair genes as well as several eukaryotic repair genes and it has been thought that multiple DNA repair pathways may account for the high UV resistance and dark repair capacity of this model halophilic archaeon. We have carried out a functional analysis, measuring repair capability in uvrA, uvrB and uvrC deletion mutants.
Deletion mutants lacking functional uvrA, uvrB or uvrC genes, including a uvrA uvrC double mutant, are hypersensitive to UV and are unable to remove cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers or 6–4 photoproducts from their DNA after irradiation with 150 J/m2 of 254 nm UV-C. The UV sensitivity of the uvr mutants is greatly attenuated following incubation under visible light, emphasizing that photoreactivation is highly efficient in this organism. Phylogenetic analysis of the Halobacterium uvr genes indicates a complex ancestry.
Our results demonstrate that homologs of the bacterial nucleotide excision repair genes uvrA, uvrB, and uvrC are required for the removal of UV damage in the absence of photoreactivating light in Halobacterium sp. NRC-1. Deletion of these genes renders cells hypersensitive to UV and abolishes their ability to remove cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers and 6–4 photoproducts in the absence of photoreactivating light. In spite of this inability to repair UV damaged DNA, uvrA, uvrB and uvrC deletion mutants are substantially less UV sensitive than excision repair mutants of E. coli or yeast. This may be due to efficient damage tolerance mechanisms such as recombinational lesion bypass, bypass DNA polymerase(s) and the existence of multiple genomes in Halobacterium. Phylogenetic analysis provides no clear evidence for lateral transfer of these genes from bacteria to archaea.
PMCID: PMC1590041  PMID: 16970815
24.  Dihydroxyacetone metabolism in Haloferax volcanii 
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is a ketose sugar that can be produced by oxidizing glycerol. DHA in the environment is taken up and phosphorylated to DHA-phosphate by glycerol kinase or DHA kinase. In hypersaline environments, it is hypothesized that DHA is produced as an overflow product from glycerol utilization by organisms such as Salinibacter ruber. Previous research has demonstrated that the halobacterial species Haloquadratum walsbyi can use DHA as a carbon source, and putative DHA kinase genes were hypothesized to be involved in this process. However, DHA metabolism has not been demonstrated in other halobacterial species, and the role of the DHA kinase genes was not confirmed. In this study, we examined the metabolism of DHA in Haloferax volcanii because putative DHA kinase genes were annotated in its genome, and it has an established genetic system to assay growth of mutant knockouts. Experiments in which Hfx. volcanii was grown on DHA as the sole carbon source demonstrated growth, and that it is concentration dependent. Three annotated DHA kinase genes (HVO_1544, HVO_1545, and HVO_1546), which are homologous to the putative DHA kinase genes present in Hqm. walsbyi, as well as the glycerol kinase gene (HVO_1541), were deleted to examine the effect of these genes on the growth of Hfx. volcanii on DHA. Experiments demonstrated that the DHA kinase deletion mutant exhibited diminished, but not absence of growth on DHA compared to the parent strain. Deletion of the glycerol kinase gene also reduced growth on DHA, and did so more than deletion of the DHA kinase. The results indicate that Hfx. volcanii can metabolize DHA and that DHA kinase plays a role in this metabolism. However, the glycerol kinase appears to be the primary enzyme involved in this process. BLASTp analyses demonstrate that the DHA kinase genes are patchily distributed among the Halobacteria, whereas the glycerol kinase gene is widely distributed, suggesting a widespread capability for DHA metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3863723  PMID: 24379808
dihydroxyacetone metabolism; dihydroxyacetone kinase; glycerol kinase; archaea; Halobacteria; Haloarchaea
25.  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

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