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1.  Small regulatory RNAs in Archaea 
RNA Biology  2014;11(5):484-493.
Small regulatory RNAs (sRNAs) are universally distributed in all three domains of life, Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryotes. In bacteria, sRNAs typically function by binding near the translation start site of their target mRNAs and thereby inhibit or activate translation. In eukaryotes, miRNAs and siRNAs typically bind to the 3′-untranslated region (3′-UTR) of their target mRNAs and influence translation efficiency and/or mRNA stability. In archaea, sRNAs have been identified in all species investigated using bioinformatic approaches, RNomics, and RNA-Seq. Their size can vary significantly between less than 50 to more than 500 nucleotides. Differential expression of sRNA genes has been studied using northern blot analysis, microarrays, and RNA-Seq. In addition, biological functions have been unraveled by genetic approaches, i.e., by characterization of designed mutants. As in bacteria, it was revealed that archaeal sRNAs are involved in many biological processes, including metabolic regulation, adaptation to extreme conditions, stress responses, and even in regulation of morphology and cellular behavior. Recently, the first target mRNAs were identified in archaea, including one sRNA that binds to the 5′-region of two mRNAs in Methanosarcina mazei Gö1 and a few sRNAs that bind to 3′-UTRs in Sulfolobus solfataricus, three Pyrobaculum species, and Haloferax volcanii, indicating that archaeal sRNAs appear to be able to target both the 5′-UTR or the 3′-UTRs of their respective target mRNAs. In addition, archaea contain tRNA-derived fragments (tRFs), and one tRF has been identified as a major ribosome-binding sRNA in H. volcanii, which downregulates translation in response to stress. Besides regulatory sRNAs, archaea contain further classes of sRNAs, e.g., CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) and snoRNAs.
PMCID: PMC4152357  PMID: 24755959
archaea; small regulatory RNAs; tRNA-derived fragments; translation; Methanosarcina mazei; Haloferax volcanii; Sulfolobus solfataricus; Nanoarchaeum equitans
2.  Halophilic Archaea Cultivated from Surface Sterilized Middle-Late Eocene Rock Salt Are Polyploid 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e110533.
Live bacteria and archaea have been isolated from several rock salt deposits of up to hundreds of millions of years of age from all around the world. A key factor affecting their longevity is the ability to keep their genomic DNA intact, for which efficient repair mechanisms are needed. Polyploid microbes are known to have an increased resistance towards mutations and DNA damage, and it has been suggested that microbes from deeply buried rock salt would carry several copies of their genomes. Here, cultivable halophilic microbes were isolated from a surface sterilized middle-late Eocene (38–41 million years ago) rock salt sample, drilled from the depth of 800 m at Yunying salt mine, China. Eight unique isolates were obtained, which represented two haloarchaeal genera, Halobacterium and Halolamina. We used real-time PCR to show that our isolates are polyploid, with genome copy numbers of 11–14 genomes per cell in exponential growth phase. The ploidy level was slightly downregulated in stationary growth phase, but the cells still had an average genome copy number of 6–8. The polyploidy of halophilic archaea living in ancient rock salt might be a factor explaining how these organisms are able to overcome the challenge of prolonged survival during their entombment.
PMCID: PMC4206341  PMID: 25338080
3.  Polyploidy in haloarchaea: advantages for growth and survival 
The investigated haloarchaeal species, Halobacterium salinarum, Haloferax mediterranei, and H. volcanii, have all been shown to be polyploid. They contain several replicons that have independent copy number regulation, and most have a higher copy number during exponential growth phase than in stationary phase. The possible evolutionary advantages of polyploidy for haloarchaea, most of which have experimental support for at least one species, are discussed. These advantages include a low mutation rate and high resistance toward X-ray irradiation and desiccation, which depend on homologous recombination. For H. volcanii, it has been shown that gene conversion operates in the absence of selection, which leads to the equalization of genome copies. On the other hand, selective forces might lead to heterozygous cells, which have been verified in the laboratory. Additional advantages of polyploidy are survival over geological times in halite deposits as well as at extreme conditions on earth and at simulated Mars conditions. Recently, it was found that H. volcanii uses genomic DNA as genetic material and as a storage polymer for phosphate. In the absence of phosphate, H. volcanii dramatically decreases its genome copy number, thereby enabling cell multiplication, but diminishing the genetic advantages of polyploidy. Stable storage of phosphate is proposed as an alternative driving force for the emergence of DNA in early evolution. Several additional potential advantages of polyploidy are discussed that have not been addressed experimentally for haloarchaea. An outlook summarizes selected current trends and possible future developments.
PMCID: PMC4056108  PMID: 24982654
Haloferax volcanii; archaea; polyploidy; gene conversion; desiccation; survival
4.  DNA as a Phosphate Storage Polymer and the Alternative Advantages of Polyploidy for Growth or Survival 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94819.
Haloferax volcanii uses extracellular DNA as a source for carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous. However, it can also grow to a limited extend in the absence of added phosphorous, indicating that it contains an intracellular phosphate storage molecule. As Hfx. volcanii is polyploid, it was investigated whether DNA might be used as storage polymer, in addition to its role as genetic material. It could be verified that during phosphate starvation cells multiply by distributing as well as by degrading their chromosomes. In contrast, the number of ribosomes stayed constant, revealing that ribosomes are distributed to descendant cells, but not degraded. These results suggest that the phosphate of phosphate-containing biomolecules (other than DNA and RNA) originates from that stored in DNA, not in rRNA. Adding phosphate to chromosome depleted cells rapidly restores polyploidy. Quantification of desiccation survival of cells with different ploidy levels showed that under phosphate starvation Hfx. volcanii diminishes genetic advantages of polyploidy in favor of cell multiplication. The consequences of the usage of genomic DNA as phosphate storage polymer are discussed as well as the hypothesis that DNA might have initially evolved in evolution as a storage polymer, and the various genetic benefits evolved later.
PMCID: PMC3986227  PMID: 24733558
5.  Haloferax volcanii, a Prokaryotic Species that Does Not Use the Shine Dalgarno Mechanism for Translation Initiation at 5′-UTRs 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94979.
It was long assumed that translation initiation in prokaryotes generally occurs via the so-called Shine Dalgarno (SD) mechanism. Recently, it became clear that translation initiation in prokaryotes is more heterogeneous. In the haloarchaeon Haloferax volcanii, the majority of transcripts is leaderless and most transcripts with a 5′-UTR lack a SD motif. Nevertheless, a bioinformatic analysis predicted that 20–30% of all genes are preceded by a SD motif in haloarchaea. To analyze the importance of the SD mechanism for translation initiation in haloarchaea experimentally the monocistronic sod gene was chosen, which contains a 5′-UTR with an extensive SD motif of seven nucleotides and a length of 19 nt, the average length of 5′UTRs in this organism. A translational fusion of part of the sod gene with the dhfr reporter gene was constructed. A mutant series was generated that matched the SD motif from zero to eight positions, respectively. Surprisingly, there was no correlation between the base pairing ability between transcripts and 16S rRNA and translational efficiency in vivo under several different growth conditions. Furthermore, complete replacement of the SD motif by three unrelated sequences did not reduce translational efficiency. The results indicate that H. volcanii does not make use of the SD mechanism for translation initiation in 5′-UTRs. A genome analysis revealed that while the number of SD motifs in 5′-UTRs is rare, their fraction within open reading frames is high. Possible biological functions for intragenic SD motifs are discussed, including re-initiation of translation at distal genes in operons.
PMCID: PMC3986360  PMID: 24733188
6.  Generation and Phenotyping of a Collection of sRNA Gene Deletion Mutants of the Haloarchaeon Haloferax volcanii 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e90763.
The haloarchaeon Haloferax volcanii was shown to contain 145 intergenic and 45 antisense sRNAs. In a comprehensive approach to unravel various biological roles of haloarchaeal sRNAs in vivo, 27 sRNA genes were selected and deletion mutants were generated. The phenotypes of these mutants were compared to that of the parent strain under ten different conditions, i.e. growth on four different carbon sources, growth at three different salt concentrations, and application of four different stress conditions. In addition, cell morphologies in exponential and stationary phase were observed. Furthermore, swarming of 17 mutants was analyzed. 24 of the 27 mutants exhibited a difference from the parent strain under at least one condition, revealing that haloarchaeal sRNAs are involved in metabolic regulation, growth under extreme conditions, regulation of morphology and behavior, and stress adaptation. Notably, 7 deletion mutants showed a gain of function phenotype, which has not yet been described for any other prokaryotic sRNA gene deletion mutant. Comparison of the transcriptomes of one sRNA gene deletion mutant and the parent strain led to the identification of differentially expressed genes. Genes for flagellins and chemotaxis were up-regulated in the mutant, in accordance with its gain of function swarming phenotype. While the deletion mutant analysis underscored that haloarchaeal sRNAs are involved in many biological functions, the degree of conservation is extremely low. Only 3 of the 27 genes are conserved in more than 10 haloarchaeal species. 22 of the 27 genes are confined to H. volcanii, indicating a fast evolution of haloarchaeal sRNA genes.
PMCID: PMC3956466  PMID: 24637842
7.  A Comprehensive Analysis of the Importance of Translation Initiation Factors for Haloferax volcanii Applying Deletion and Conditional Depletion Mutants 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e77188.
Translation is an important step in gene expression. The initiation of translation is phylogenetically diverse, since currently five different initiation mechanisms are known. For bacteria the three initiation factors IF1 – IF3 are described in contrast to archaea and eukaryotes, which contain a considerably higher number of initiation factor genes. As eukaryotes and archaea use a non-overlapping set of initiation mechanisms, orthologous proteins of both domains do not necessarily fulfill the same function. The genome of Haloferax volcanii contains 14 annotated genes that encode (subunits of) initiation factors. To gain a comprehensive overview of the importance of these genes, it was attempted to construct single gene deletion mutants of all genes. In 9 cases single deletion mutants were successfully constructed, showing that the respective genes are not essential. In contrast, the genes encoding initiation factors aIF1, aIF2γ, aIF5A, aIF5B, and aIF6 were found to be essential. Factors aIF1A and aIF2β are encoded by two orthologous genes in H. volcanii. Attempts to generate double mutants failed in both cases, indicating that also these factors are essential. A translatome analysis of one of the single aIF2β deletion mutants revealed that the translational efficiency of the second ortholog was enhanced tenfold and thus the two proteins can replace one another. The phenotypes of the single deletion mutants also revealed that the two aIF1As and aIF2βs have redundant but not identical functions. Remarkably, the gene encoding aIF2α, a subunit of aIF2 involved in initiator tRNA binding, could be deleted. However, the mutant had a severe growth defect under all tested conditions. Conditional depletion mutants were generated for the five essential genes. The phenotypes of deletion mutants and conditional depletion mutants were compared to that of the wild-type under various conditions, and growth characteristics are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3828320  PMID: 24244275
8.  Nitrogen regulation of protein–protein interactions and transcript levels of GlnK PII regulator and AmtB ammonium transporter homologs in Archaea 
MicrobiologyOpen  2013;2(5):826-840.
Gene homologs of GlnK PII regulators and AmtB-type ammonium transporters are often paired on prokaryotic genomes, suggesting these proteins share an ancient functional relationship. Here, we demonstrate for the first time in Archaea that GlnK associates with AmtB in membrane fractions after ammonium shock, thus, providing a further insight into GlnK-AmtB as an ancient nitrogen sensor pair. For this work, Haloferax mediterranei was advanced for study through the generation of a pyrE2-based counterselection system that was used for targeted gene deletion and expression of Flag-tagged proteins from their native promoters. AmtB1-Flag was detected in membrane fractions of cells grown on nitrate and was found to coimmunoprecipitate with GlnK after ammonium shock. Thus, in analogy to bacteria, the archaeal GlnK PII may block the AmtB1 ammonium transporter under nitrogen-rich conditions. In addition to this regulated protein–protein interaction, the archaeal amtB-glnK gene pairs were found to be highly regulated by nitrogen availability with transcript levels high under conditions of nitrogen limitation and low during nitrogen excess. While transcript levels of glnK-amtB are similarly regulated by nitrogen availability in bacteria, transcriptional regulators of the bacterial glnK promoter including activation by the two-component signal transduction proteins NtrC (GlnG, NRI) and NtrB (GlnL, NRII) and sigma factor σN (σ54) are not conserved in archaea suggesting a novel mechanism of transcriptional control.
PMCID: PMC3831643  PMID: 24039236
Archaea; Haloferax; halophilic; membrane; metabolism
9.  High throughput sequencing reveals a plethora of small RNAs including tRNA derived fragments in Haloferax volcanii 
RNA Biology  2012;9(7):1011-1018.
To define the complete sRNA population of the halophilic archaeon Haloferax volcanii, we employed high throughput sequencing. cDNAs were generated from RNA ranging in size from 17 to 500 nucleotides isolated from cells grown at three different conditions to exponential and stationary phase, respectively. Altogether, 145 intergenic and 45 antisense sRNAs were identified. Comparison of the expression profile showed different numbers of reads at the six different conditions for the majority of sRNAs. A striking difference in the number of sRNA reads was observed between cells grown under standard vs. low salt conditions. Furthermore, the six highest numbers of reads were found for low salt conditions. In contrast, only slight differences between sRNA reads at different growth temperatures were detected. Attempts to delete four sRNA genes revealed that one sRNA gene is essential. The three viable sRNA gene deletion mutants possessed distinct phenotypes. According to microarray analyses, the removal of the sRNA gene resulted in a profound change of the transcriptome when compared with the wild type. High throughput sequencing also showed the presence of high concentrations of tRNA derived fragments in H. volcanii. These tRF molecules were shown to have different amounts of reads at the six conditions analyzed. Northern analysis was used to confirm the presence of the tRNA-derived fragments.
PMCID: PMC3495736  PMID: 22767255
Haloferax volcanii; archaea; high throughput sequencing; sRNAs; tRFs
10.  Functional Genomic and Advanced Genetic Studies Reveal Novel Insights into the Metabolism, Regulation, and Biology of Haloferax volcanii 
Archaea  2011;2011:602408.
The genome sequence of Haloferax volcanii is available and several comparative genomic in silico studies were performed that yielded novel insight for example into protein export, RNA modifications, small non-coding RNAs, and ubiquitin-like Small Archaeal Modifier Proteins. The full range of functional genomic methods has been established and results from transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic studies are discussed. Notably, Hfx. volcanii is together with Halobacterium salinarum the only prokaryotic species for which a translatome analysis has been performed. The results revealed that the fraction of translationally-regulated genes in haloarchaea is as high as in eukaryotes. A highly efficient genetic system has been established that enables the application of libraries as well as the parallel generation of genomic deletion mutants. Facile mutant generation is complemented by the possibility to culture Hfx. volcanii in microtiter plates, allowing the phenotyping of mutant collections. Genetic approaches are currently used to study diverse biological questions–from replication to posttranslational modification—and selected results are discussed. Taken together, the wealth of functional genomic and genetic tools make Hfx. volcanii a bona fide archaeal model species, which has enabled the generation of important results in recent years and will most likely generate further breakthroughs in the future.
PMCID: PMC3235422  PMID: 22190865
11.  Genome Copy Numbers and Gene Conversion in Methanogenic Archaea▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;193(3):734-743.
Previous studies revealed that one species of methanogenic archaea, Methanocaldococcus jannaschii, is polyploid, while a second species, Methanothermobacter thermoautotrophicus, is diploid. To further investigate the distribution of ploidy in methanogenic archaea, species of two additional genera—Methanosarcina acetivorans and Methanococcus maripaludis—were investigated. M. acetivorans was found to be polyploid during fast growth (tD = 6 h; 17 genome copies) and oligoploid during slow growth (doubling time = 49 h; 3 genome copies). M. maripaludis has the highest ploidy level found for any archaeal species, with up to 55 genome copies in exponential phase and ca. 30 in stationary phase. A compilation of archaeal species with quantified ploidy levels reveals a clear dichotomy between Euryarchaeota and Crenarchaeota: none of seven euryarchaeal species of six genera is monoploid (haploid), while, in contrast, all six crenarchaeal species of four genera are monoploid, indicating significant genetic differences between these two kingdoms. Polyploidy in asexual species should lead to accumulation of inactivating mutations until the number of intact chromosomes per cell drops to zero (called “Muller's ratchet”). A mechanism to equalize the genome copies, such as gene conversion, would counteract this phenomenon. Making use of a previously constructed heterozygous mutant strain of the polyploid M. maripaludis we could show that in the absence of selection very fast equalization of genomes in M. maripaludis took place probably via a gene conversion mechanism. In addition, it was shown that the velocity of this phenomenon is inversely correlated to the strength of selection.
PMCID: PMC3021236  PMID: 21097629
12.  Quantification of Ploidy in Proteobacteria Revealed the Existence of Monoploid, (Mero-)Oligoploid and Polyploid Species 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e16392.
Bacteria are generally assumed to be monoploid (haploid). This assumption is mainly based on generalization of the results obtained with the most intensely studied model bacterium, Escherichia coli (a gamma-proteobacterium), which is monoploid during very slow growth. However, several species of proteobacteria are oligo- or polyploid, respectively. To get a better overview of the distribution of ploidy levels, genome copy numbers were quantified in four species of three different groups of proteobacteria. A recently developed Real Time PCR approach, which had been used to determine the ploidy levels of halophilic archaea, was optimized for the quantification of genome copy numbers of bacteria. Slow-growing (doubling time 103 minutes) and fast-growing (doubling time 25 minutes) E. coli cultures were used as a positive control. The copy numbers of the origin and terminus region of the chromosome were determined and the results were in excellent agreement with published data. The approach was also used to determine the ploidy levels of Caulobacter crescentus (an alpha-proteobacterium) and Wolinella succinogenes (an epsilon-proteobacterium), both of which are monoploid. In contrast, Pseudomonas putida (a gamma-proteobacterium) contains 20 genome copies and is thus polyploid. A survey of the proteobacteria with experimentally-determined genome copy numbers revealed that only three to four of 11 species are monoploid and thus monoploidy is not typical for proteobacteria. The ploidy level is not conserved within the groups of proteobacteria, and there are no obvious correlations between the ploidy levels with other parameters like genome size, optimal growth temperature or mode of life.
PMCID: PMC3031548  PMID: 21305010
13.  Protein Acetylation in Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryotes 
Archaea  2010;2010:820681.
Proteins can be acetylated at the alpha-amino group of the N-terminal amino acid (methionine or the penultimate amino acid after methionine removal) or at the epsilon-amino group of internal lysines. In eukaryotes the majority of proteins are N-terminally acetylated, while this is extremely rare in bacteria. A variety of studies about N-terminal acetylation in archaea have been reported recently, and it was revealed that a considerable fraction of proteins is N-terminally acetylated in haloarchaea and Sulfolobus, while this does not seem to apply for methanogenic archaea. Many eukaryotic proteins are modified by differential internal acetylation, which is important for a variety of processes. Until very recently, only two bacterial proteins were known to be acetylation targets, but now 125 acetylation sites are known for E. coli. Knowledge about internal acetylation in archaea is extremely limited; only two target proteins are known, only one of which—Alba—was used to study differential acetylation. However, indications accumulate that the degree of internal acetylation of archaeal proteins might be underestimated, and differential acetylation has been shown to be essential for the viability of haloarchaea. Focused proteomic approaches are needed to get an overview of the extent of internal protein acetylation in archaea.
PMCID: PMC2946573  PMID: 20885971
14.  Regulation of Translation in Haloarchaea: 5′- and 3′-UTRs Are Essential and Have to Functionally Interact In Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(2):e4484.
Recently a first genome-wide analysis of translational regulation using prokaryotic species had been performed which revealed that regulation of translational efficiency plays an important role in haloarchaea. In fact, the fractions of genes under differential growth phase-dependent translational control in the two species Halobacterium salinarum and Haloferax volcanii were as high as in eukaryotes. However, nothing is known about the mechanisms of translational regulation in archaea. Therefore, two genes exhibiting opposing directions of regulation were selected to unravel the importance of untranslated regions (UTRs) for differential translational control in vivo.
Differential translational regulation in exponentially growing versus stationary phase cells was studied by comparing translational efficiencies using a reporter gene system. Translational regulation was not observed when 5′-UTRs or 3′-UTRs alone were fused to the reporter gene. However, their simultaneous presence was sufficient to transfer differential translational control from the native transcript to the reporter transcript. This was true for both directions of translational control. Translational regulation was completely abolished when stem loops in the 5′-UTR were changed by mutagenesis. An “UTR-swap” experiment demonstrated that the direction of translational regulation is encoded in the 3′-UTR, not in the 5′-UTR. While much is known about 5′-UTR-dependent translational control in bacteria, the reported findings provide the first examples that both 5′- and 3′-UTRs are essential and sufficient to drive differential translational regulation in a prokaryote and therefore have to functionally interact in vivo. The current results indicate that 3′-UTR-dependent translational control had already evolved before capping and polyadenylation of transcripts were invented, which are essential for circularization of transcripts in eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC2636863  PMID: 19214227
15.  DNA Microarray Analysis of Central Carbohydrate Metabolism: Glycolytic/Gluconeogenic Carbon Switch in the Hyperthermophilic Crenarchaeum Thermoproteus tenax▿ † 
Journal of Bacteriology  2008;190(6):2231-2238.
In order to unravel the role of regulation on transcript level in central carbohydrate metabolism (CCM) of Thermoproteus tenax, a focused DNA microarray was constructed by using 85 open reading frames involved in CCM. A transcriptional analysis comparing heterotrophic growth on glucose versus autotrophic growth on CO2-H2 was performed.
PMCID: PMC2258856  PMID: 18178743
16.  Global Analysis of mRNA Decay in Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 at Single-Gene Resolution Using DNA Microarrays▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;189(19):6936-6944.
RNA degradation is an important factor in the regulation of gene expression. It allows organisms to quickly respond to changing environmental conditions by adapting the expression of individual genes. The stability of individual mRNAs within an organism varies considerably, contributing to differential amounts of proteins expressed. In this study we used DNA microarrays to analyze mRNA degradation in exponentially growing cultures of the extremely halophilic euryarchaeon Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 on a global level. We determined mRNA half-lives for 1,717 open reading frames, 620 of which are part of known or predicted operons. Under the tested conditions transcript stabilities ranged from 5 min to more than 18 min, with 79% of the evaluated mRNAs showing half-lives between 8 and 12 min. The overall mean half-life was 10 min, which is considerably longer than the ones found in the other prokaryotes investigated thus far. As previously observed in Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, we could not detect a significant correlation between transcript length and transcript stability, but there was a relationship between gene function and transcript stability. Genes that are known or predicted to be transcribed in operons exhibited similar mRNA half-lives. These results provide initial insights into mRNA turnover in a euryarchaeon. Moreover, our model organism, H. salinarum NRC-1, is one of just two archaea sequenced to date that are missing the core subunits of the archaeal exosome. This complex orthologous to the RNA degrading exosome of eukarya is found in all other archaeal genomes sequenced thus far.
PMCID: PMC2045193  PMID: 17644597
17.  Experimental Characterization of Cis-Acting Elements Important for Translation and Transcription in Halophilic Archaea 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(12):e229.
The basal transcription apparatus of archaea is well characterized. However, much less is known about the mechanisms of transcription termination and translation initation. Recently, experimental determination of the 5′-ends of ten transcripts from Pyrobaculum aerophilum revealed that these are devoid of a 5′-UTR. Bioinformatic analysis indicated that many transcripts of other archaeal species might also be leaderless. The 5′-ends and 3′-ends of 40 transcripts of two haloarchaeal species, Halobacterium salinarum and Haloferax volcanii, have been determined. They were used to characterize the lengths of 5′-UTRs and 3′-UTRs and to deduce consensus sequence-elements for transcription and translation. The experimental approach was complemented with a bioinformatics analysis of the H. salinarum genome sequence. Furthermore, the influence of selected 5′-UTRs and 3′-UTRs on transcript stability and translational efficiency in vivo was characterized using a newly established reporter gene system, gene fusions, and real-time PCR. Consensus sequences for basal promoter elements could be refined and a novel element was discovered. A consensus motif probably important for transcriptional termination was established. All 40 haloarchaeal transcripts analyzed had a 3′-UTR (average size 57 nt), and their 3′-ends were not posttranscriptionally modified. Experimental data and genome analyses revealed that the majority of haloarchaeal transcripts are leaderless, indicating that this is the predominant mode for translation initiation in haloarchaea. Surprisingly, the 5′-UTRs of most leadered transcripts did not contain a Shine-Dalgarno (SD) sequence. A genome analysis indicated that less than 10% of all genes are preceded by a SD sequence and even most proximal genes in operons lack a SD sequence. Seven different leadered transcripts devoid of a SD sequence were efficiently translated in vivo, including artificial 5′-UTRs of random sequences. Thus, an interaction of the 5′-UTRs of these leadered transcripts with the 16S rRNA could be excluded. Taken together, either a scanning mechanism similar to the mechanism of translation initiation operating in eukaryotes or a novel mechanism must operate on most leadered haloarchaeal transcripts.
Author Summary
Expression of the information encoded in the genome of an organism into its phenotype involves transcription of the DNA into messenger RNAs and translation of mRNAs into proteins. The textbook view is that an mRNA consists of an untranslated region (5′-UTR), an open reading frame encoding the protein, and another untranslated region (3′-UTR). We have determined the 5′-ends and the 3′-ends of 40 mRNAs of two haloarchaeal species and used this dataset to gain information about nucleotide elements important for transcription and translation. Two thirds of the mRNAs were devoid of a 5′-UTR, and therefore the major pathway for translation initiation in haloarchaea involves so-called leaderless transcripts. Very unexpectedly, most leadered mRNAs were found to be devoid of a sequence motif believed to be essential for translation initiation in bacteria and archaea (Shine-Dalgarno sequence). A bioinformatic genome analysis revealed that less than 10% of the genes contain a Shine-Dalgarno sequence. mRNAs lacking this motif were efficiently translated in vivo, including mRNAs with artificial 5′-UTRs of total random sequence. Thus, translation initiation on these mRNAs either involves a scanning mechanism similar to the mechanism operating in eukaryotes or a totally novel mechanism operating at least in haloarchaea.
PMCID: PMC2151090  PMID: 18159946
18.  Genome-wide analysis of growth phase-dependent translational and transcriptional regulation in halophilic archaea 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:415.
Differential expression of genes can be regulated on many different levels. Most global studies of gene regulation concentrate on transcript level regulation, and very few global analyses of differential translational efficiencies exist. The studies have revealed that in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Arabidopsis thaliana, and human cell lines translational regulation plays a significant role. Additional species have not been investigated yet. Particularly, until now no global study of translational control with any prokaryotic species was available.
A global analysis of translational control was performed with two haloarchaeal model species, Halobacterium salinarum and Haloferax volcanii. To identify differentially regulated genes, exponentially growing and stationary phase cells were compared.
More than 20% of H. salinarum transcripts are translated with non-average efficiencies. By far the largest group is comprised of genes that are translated with above-average efficiency specifically in exponential phase, including genes for many ribosomal proteins, RNA polymerase subunits, enzymes, and chemotaxis proteins. Translation of 1% of all genes is specifically repressed in either of the two growth phases. For comparison, DNA microarrays were also used to identify differential transcriptional regulation in H. salinarum, and 17% of all genes were found to have non-average transcript levels in exponential versus stationary phase.
In H. volcanii, 12% of all genes are translated with non-average efficiencies. The overlap with H. salinarum is negligible. In contrast to H. salinarum, 4.6% of genes have non-average translational efficiency in both growth phases, and thus they might be regulated by other stimuli than growth phase.
For the first time in any prokaryotic species it was shown that a significant fraction of genes is under differential translational control. Groups of genes with different regulatory patterns were discovered. However, neither the fractions nor the identity of regulated genes are conserved between H. salinarum and H. volcanii, indicating that prokaryotes as well as eukaryotes use differential translational control for the regulation of gene expression, but that the identity of regulated genes is not conserved.
For 70 H. salinarum genes potentiation of regulation was observed, but for the majority of regulated genes either transcriptional or translational regulation is employed.
PMCID: PMC3225822  PMID: 17997854
19.  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
20.  Transcriptome changes and cAMP oscillations in an archaeal cell cycle 
BMC Cell Biology  2007;8:21.
The cell cycle of all organisms includes mass increase by a factor of two, replication of the genetic material, segregation of the genome to different parts of the cell, and cell division into two daughter cells. It is tightly regulated and typically includes cell cycle-specific oscillations of the levels of transcripts, proteins, protein modifications, and signaling molecules. Until now cell cycle-specific transcriptome changes have been described for four eukaryotic species ranging from yeast to human, but only for two prokaryotic species. Similarly, oscillations of small signaling molecules have been identified in very few eukaryotic species, but not in any prokaryote.
A synchronization procedure for the archaeon Halobacterium salinarum was optimized, so that nearly 100% of all cells divide in a time interval that is 1/4th of the generation time of exponentially growing cells. The method was used to characterize cell cycle-dependent transcriptome changes using a genome-wide DNA microarray. The transcript levels of 87 genes were found to be cell cycle-regulated, corresponding to 3% of all genes. They could be clustered into seven groups with different transcript level profiles. Cluster-specific sequence motifs were detected around the start of the genes that are predicted to be involved in cell cycle-specific transcriptional regulation. Notably, many cell cycle genes that have oscillating transcript levels in eukaryotes are not regulated on the transcriptional level in H. salinarum.
Synchronized cultures were also used to identify putative small signaling molecules. H. salinarum was found to contain a basal cAMP concentration of 200 μM, considerably higher than that of yeast. The cAMP concentration is shortly induced directly prior to and after cell division, and thus cAMP probably is an important signal for cell cycle progression.
The analysis of cell cycle-specific transcriptome changes of H. salinarum allowed to identify a strategy of transcript level regulation that is different from all previously characterized species. The transcript levels of only 3% of all genes are regulated, a fraction that is considerably lower than has been reported for four eukaryotic species (6% – 28%) and for the bacterium C. crescentus (19%).
It was shown that cAMP is present in significant concentrations in an archaeon, and the phylogenetic profile of the adenylate cyclase indicates that this signaling molecule is widely distributed in archaea. The occurrence of cell cycle-dependent oscillations of the cAMP concentration in an archaeon and in several eukaryotic species indicates that cAMP level changes might be a phylogenetically old signal for cell cycle progression.
PMCID: PMC1906763  PMID: 17562013
21.  Regulated Polyploidy in Halophilic Archaea 
PLoS ONE  2006;1(1):e92.
Polyploidy is common in higher eukaryotes, especially in plants, but it is generally assumed that most prokaryotes contain a single copy of a circular chromosome and are therefore monoploid. We have used two independent methods to determine the genome copy number in halophilic archaea, 1) cell lysis in agarose blocks and Southern blot analysis, and 2) Real-Time quantitative PCR. Fast growing H. salinarum cells contain on average about 25 copies of the chromosome in exponential phase, and their ploidy is downregulated to 15 copies in early stationary phase. The chromosome copy number is identical in cultures with a twofold lower growth rate, in contrast to the results reported for several other prokaryotic species. Of three additional replicons of H. salinarum, two have a low copy number that is not growth-phase regulated, while one replicon even shows a higher degree of growth phase-dependent regulation than the main replicon. The genome copy number of H. volcanii is similarly high during exponential phase (on average 18 copies/cell), and it is also downregulated (to 10 copies) as the cells enter stationary phase. The variation of genome copy numbers in the population was addressed by fluorescence microscopy and by FACS analysis. These methods allowed us to verify the growth phase-dependent regulation of ploidy in H. salinarum, and they revealed that there is a wide variation in genome copy numbers in individual cells that is much larger in exponential than in stationary phase. Our results indicate that polyploidy might be more widespread in archaea (or even prokaryotes in general) than previously assumed. Moreover, the presence of so many genome copies in a prokaryote raises questions about the evolutionary significance of this strategy.
PMCID: PMC1762399  PMID: 17183724
22.  Functional Role for a 2-Oxo Acid Dehydrogenase in the Halophilic Archaeon Haloferax volcanii 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(11):3114-3121.
The archaeon Haloferax volcanii was previously shown to contain and transcribe the genes for a 2-oxo acid dehydrogenase (OADH) complex, but their presence remained a mystery because no enzymatic activity with any of the known OADH substrates could be found, and an inactivation of one of the genes did not lead to any phenotype. Here we report the identification of an additional oadh gene cluster in the genome of H. volcanii. In contrast to previously known oadh loci, it contains three genes, oadh2A1, oadh2A2, and oadh2ld, with coding capacity for the E1α and E1β subunits and an unattached lipoyl domain, but it is devoid of the genes for a complete E2 and an E3. The genes were isolated by complementation of a nitrate respiration-deficient mutant of H. volcanii and therefore were shown to be functional in vivo. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that the deduced E1α and E1β subunits of OADH2 group with bacterial acetoin dehydrogenases but not with the OADH1 subunits, and thus, H. volcanii has obtained the two gene groups independently. Comparison of the wild type and the mutant allowed us to exclude a function of OADH2 in the aerobic or anaerobic degradation of acetoin or glucose. Instead, it could be shown that OADH2 is important during nitrate-respirative growth on Casamino Acids. Many physiological and biochemical experiments failed to indicate that OADH2 uses any of the previously known OADH substrates. Growth potentials of the mutant were markedly different in media with a single carbon source versus media with mixed carbon sources.
PMCID: PMC135058  PMID: 12003954

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