Halophilic archaebacteria (Haloarchaea) can survive extreme desiccation, starvation and radiation, sometimes apparently for millions of years. Several of the strategies that are involved appear specific for Haloarchaea (for example, the formation of halomucin, survival in fluid inclusions of halite), and some are known from other prokaryotes (dwarfing of cells, reduction of ATP). Several newly-discovered haloarchaeal strategies that were inferred to possibly promote long-term survival—halomucin, polyploidy, usage of DNA as a phosphate storage polymer, production of spherical dormant stages—remain to be characterized in detail. More information on potential strategies is desirable, since evidence for the presence of halite on Mars and on several moons in the solar system increased interest in halophiles with respect to the search for extraterrestrial life. This review deals in particular with novel findings and hypotheses on haloarchaeal long-term survival.
Halococcus species; Halococcus salifodinae; Haloarchaea; long-term survival; halomucin; polyploidy; ancient salt deposit; extraterrestrial halite
Previous studies had suggested the presence of ammonium oxidizing Thaumarchaeota as well as nitrite oxidizing Bacteria in the subsurface spring called Franz Josef Quelle (FJQ), a slightly radioactive thermal mineral spring with a temperature of 43.6–47°C near the alpine village of Bad Gastein, Austria. The microbiological consortium of the FJQ was investigated for its utilization of nitrogen compounds and the putative presence of a subsurface nitrogen cycle. Microcosm experiments made with samples from the spring water, containing planktonic microorganisms, or from biofilms, were used in this study. Three slightly different media, enriched with vitamins and trace elements, and two incubation temperatures (30 and 40°C, respectively) were employed. Under aerobic conditions, high rates of conversion of ammonium to nitrite, as well as nitrite to nitrate were measured. Under oxygen-limited conditions nitrate was converted to gaseous compounds. Stable isotope probing with 15NH4Cl or (15NH4)2SO4as sole energy sources revealed incorporation of 15N into community DNA. Genomic DNA as well as RNA were extracted from all microcosms. The following genes or fragments of genes were successfully amplified, cloned and sequenced by standard PCR from DNA extracts: Ammonia monooxygenase subunit A (amoA), nitrite oxidoreductase subunits A and B (nxrA and nxrB), nitrate reductase (narG), nitrite reductase (nirS), nitric oxide reductases (cnorB and qnorB), nitrous oxide reductase (nosZ). Reverse transcription of extracted total RNA and real-time PCR suggested the expression of each of those genes. Nitrogen fixation (as probed with nifH and nifD) was not detected. However, a geological origin of NH+4 in the water of the FJQ cannot be excluded, considering the silicate, granite and gneiss containing environment. The data suggested the operation of a nitrogen cycle in the subsurface environment of the FJQ.
subsurface thermal spring; Thaumarchaeota; archaeal ammonia oxidation; nitrogen cycle; functional genes; stable isotope probing
Halococcus salifodinae BIpT DSM 8989T, an extremely halophilic archaeal isolate from an Austrian salt deposit (Bad Ischl), whose origin was dated to the Permian period, was described in 1994. Subsequently, several strains of the species have been isolated, some from similar but geographically separated salt deposits. Hcc. salifodinae may be regarded as one of the most ancient culturable species which existed already about 250 million years ago. Since its habitat probably did not change during this long period, its properties were presumably not subjected to the needs of mutational adaptation. Hcc. salifodinae and other isolates from ancient deposits would be suitable candidates for testing hypotheses on prokaryotic evolution, such as the molecular clock concept, or the net-like history of genome evolution. A comparison of available taxonomic characteristics from strains of Hcc. salifodinae and other Halococcus species, most of them originating from surface waters, is presented. The cell wall polymer of Hcc. salifodinae was examined and found to be a heteropolysaccharide, similar to that of Hcc. morrhuae. Polyhydroxyalkanoate granules were present in Hcc. salifodinae, suggesting a possible lateral gene transfer before Permian times.
Halococcus species; Halococcus salifodinae; haloarchaea; Permian salt deposit; cell wall polymer; polyhydroxyalkanoate; prokaryotic evolution
Evidence for the widespread occurrence of extraterrestrial halite, particularly on Mars, has led to speculations on the possibility of halophilic microbial forms of life; these ideas have been strengthened by reports of viable haloarchaea from sediments of geological age (millions of years). Raman spectroscopy, being a sensitive detection method for future astrobiological investigations onsite, has been used in the current study for the detection of nine different extremely halophilic archaeal strains which had been embedded in laboratory-made halite crystals in order to simulate evaporitic conditions. The cells accumulated preferentially in tiny fluid inclusions, in simulation of the precipitation of salt in natural brines. FT-Raman spectroscopy using laser excitation at 1064 nm and dispersive micro Raman spectroscopy at 514.5 nm were applied. The spectra showed prominent peaks at 1507, 1152 and 1002 cm−1 which are attributed to haloarchaeal C50 carotenoid compounds (mainly bacterioruberins). Their intensity varied from strain to strain at 1064-nm laser excitation. Other distinguishable features were peaks due to peptide bonds (amide I, amide III) and to nucleic acids. No evidence for fatty acids was detected, consistent with their general absence in all archaea.
These results contribute to a growing database on Raman spectra of terrestrial microorganisms from hypersaline environments and highlight the influence of the different macromolecular composition of diverse strains on these spectra.
Raman spectroscopy; extremely halophilic archaea; halite; astrobiology; fluid inclusions; carotenoids; bacterioruberins; Martian subsurface
Halophilic archaebacteria (haloarchaea) thrive in environments with salt concentrations approaching saturation, such as natural brines, the Dead Sea, alkaline salt lakes and marine solar salterns; they have also been isolated from rock salt of great geological age (195–250 million years). An overview of their taxonomy, including novel isolates from rock salt, is presented here; in addition, some of their unique characteristics and physiological adaptations to environments of low water activity are reviewed. The issue of extreme long-term microbial survival is considered and its implications for the search for extraterrestrial life. The development of detection methods for subterranean haloarchaea, which might also be applicable to samples from future missions to space, is presented.
Extreme halophiles; Haloarchaea; Life detection; Microbial longevity; Salt mines; Salt sediments; Space missions; Subterranean; Taxonomy of halobacteriaceae
A Gram-negative, extremely halophilic, coccoid archaeal strain, CM5T, was isolated from a crude sea-salt sample collected near Qingdao, China. The organism grew optimally at 35–40 °C and pH 6.0 in the presence of 20 % (w/v) NaCl. Its colonies were red in colour and it could use glucose as a sole carbon source for growth. The 16S rRNA gene sequence of CM5T was most closely related to those of Halococcus species. Its pattern of antibiotic susceptibility was similar to those of other described Halococcus species. Biochemical tests revealed no sign of H2S production or gelatin liquefaction. The main polar lipids of strain CM5T were phosphatidylglycerol, phosphatidylglycerol methylphosphate and sulfated diglycosyl diether. No phosphatidylglycerol sulfate was present. The DNA G+C content of strain CM5T was 61.2 mol% and it gave DNA–DNA reassociation values of 33.7, 57.1 and 29.6 %, respectively, with Halococcus salifodinae DSM 8989T, Halococcus dombrowskii DSM 14522T and Halococcus morrhuae ATCC 17082T. Based on its morphological and chemotaxonomic properties and phylogenetic analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequence data, we propose that CM5T should be classified within a novel species, Halococcus qingdaonensis sp. nov., with strain CM5T (=CGMCC 1.4243T=JCM 13587T) as the type strain.
The isolation of viable extremely halophilic archaea from 250-million-year-old rock salt suggests the possibility of their long-term survival under desiccation. Since halite has been found on Mars and in meteorites, haloarchaeal survival of martian surface conditions is being explored. Halococcus dombrowskii H4 DSM 14522T was exposed to UV doses over a wavelength range of 200–400 nm to simulate martian UV flux. Cells embedded in a thin layer of laboratory-grown halite were found to accumulate preferentially within fluid inclusions. Survival was assessed by staining with the LIVE/DEAD kit dyes, determining colony-forming units, and using growth tests. Halite-embedded cells showed no loss of viability after exposure to about 21 kJ/m2, and they resumed growth in liquid medium with lag phases of 12 days or more after exposure up to 148 kJ/m2. The estimated D37 (dose of 37 % survival) for Hcc. dombrowskii was ≥ 400 kJ/m2. However, exposure of cells to UV flux while in liquid culture reduced D37 by 2 orders of magnitude (to about 1 kJ/m2); similar results were obtained with Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 and Haloarcula japonica. The absorption of incoming light of shorter wavelength by color centers resulting from defects in the halite crystal structure likely contributed to these results. Under natural conditions, haloarchaeal cells become embedded in salt upon evaporation; therefore, dispersal of potential microscopic life within small crystals, perhaps in dust, on the surface of Mars could resist damage by UV radiation.
Halococcus dombrowskii; Simulated martian UV radiation; LIVE/DEAD staining; Halite fluid inclusions; UV transmittance and reflectance; Desiccation
Three halophilic isolates, strains Halo-G*T, AUS-1 and Naxos II, were compared. Halo-G* was isolated from an evaporitic salt crystal from Baja California, Mexico, whereas AUS-1 and Naxos II were isolated from salt pools in Western Australia and the Greek island of Naxos, respectively. Halo-G*T had been exposed previously to conditions of outer space and survived 2 weeks on the Biopan facility. Chemotaxonomic and molecular comparisons suggested high similarity between the three strains. Phylogenetic analysis based on the 16S rRNA gene sequences revealed that the strains clustered with Halorubrum species, showing sequence similarities of 99.2–97.1 %. The DNA–DNA hybridization values of strain Halo-G*T and strains AUS-1 and Naxos II are 73 and 75 %, respectively, indicating that they constitute a single species. The DNA relatedness between strain Halo-G*T and the type strains of 13 closely related species of the genus Halorubrum ranged from 39 to 2 %, suggesting that the three isolates constitute a different genospecies. The G+C content of the DNA of the three strains was 65.5–66.5 mol%. All three strains contained C20C20 derivatives of diethers of phosphatidylglycerol, phosphatidylglyceromethylphosphate and phosphatidylglycerolsulfate, together with a sulfated glycolipid. On the basis of these results, a novel species that includes the three strains is proposed, with the name Halorubrum chaoviator sp. nov. The type strain is strain Halo-G*T (=DSM 19316T =NCIMB 14426T =ATCC BAA-1602T).
Various effects of microgravity on prokaryotes have been recognized in recent years, with the focus on studies of pathogenic bacteria. No archaea have been investigated yet with respect to their responses to microgravity. For exposure experiments on spacecrafts or on the International Space Station, halophilic archaea (haloarchaea) are usually embedded in halite, where they accumulate in fluid inclusions. In a liquid environment, these cells will experience microgravity in space, which might influence their viability and survival. Two haloarchaeal strains, Haloferax mediterranei and Halococcus dombrowskii, were grown in simulated microgravity (SMG) with the rotary cell culture system (RCCS, Synthecon). Initially, salt precipitation and detachment of the porous aeration membranes in the RCCS were observed, but they were avoided in the remainder of the experiment by using disposable instead of reusable vessels. Several effects were detected, which were ascribed to growth in SMG: Hfx. mediterranei's resistance to the antibiotics bacitracin, erythromycin, and rifampicin increased markedly; differences in pigmentation and whole cell protein composition (proteome) of both strains were noted; cell aggregation of Hcc. dombrowskii was notably reduced. The results suggest profound effects of SMG on haloarchaeal physiology and cellular processes, some of which were easily observable and measurable. This is the first report of archaeal responses to SMG. The molecular mechanisms of the effects induced by SMG on prokaryotes are largely unknown; haloarchaea could be used as nonpathogenic model systems for their elucidation and in addition could provide information about survival during lithopanspermia (interplanetary transport of microbes inside meteorites). Key Words: Haloferax mediterranei—Halococcus dombrowskii—Simulated microgravity—Rotary cell culture system—Antibiotic resistance—Lithopanspermia. Astrobiology 11, 199–205.
Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are accumulated in many prokaryotes. Several members of the Halobacteriaceae produce poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB), but it is not known if this is a general property of the family. We evaluated identification methods for PHAs with 20 haloarchaeal species, three of them isolates from Permian salt. Staining with Sudan Black B, Nile Blue A, or Nile Red was applied to screen for the presence of PHAs. Transmission electron microscopy and 1H-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy were used for visualization of PHB granules and chemical confirmation of PHAs in cell extracts, respectively. We report for the first time the production of PHAs by Halococcus sp. (Halococcus morrhuae DSM 1307T, Halococcus saccharolyticus DSM 5350T, Halococcus salifodinae DSM 8989T, Halococcus dombrowskii DSM 14522T, Halococcus hamelinensis JCM 12892T, Halococcus qingdaonensis JCM 13587T), Halorubrum sp. (Hrr. coriense DSM 10284T, Halorubrum chaoviator DSM 19316T, Hrr. chaoviator strains NaxosII and AUS-1), haloalkaliphiles (Natronobacterium gregoryi NCMB 2189T, Natronococcus occultus DSM 3396T) and Halobacterium noricense DSM 9758T. No PHB was detected in Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 ATCC 700922, Hbt. salinarum R1 and Haloferax volcanii DSM 3757T. Most species synthesized PHAs when growing in synthetic as well as in complex medium. The polyesters were generally composed of PHB and poly-ß-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate (PHBV). Available genomic data suggest the absence of PHA synthesis in some haloarchaea and in all other Euryarchaeota and Crenarchaeota. Homologies between haloarchaeal and bacterial PHA synthesizing enzymes had indicated to some authors probable horizontal gene transfer, which, considering the data obtained in this study, may have occurred already before Permian times.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00253-010-2611-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Polyhydroxybutyrate; Haloarchaea; Halococcus; Halobacterium; Haloalkaliphile
Previous results from a 16S rRNA gene library analysis showed high diversity within the prokaryotic community of a subterranean radioactive thermal spring, the “Franz-Josef-Quelle” (FJQ) in Bad Gastein, Austria, as well as evidence for ammonia oxidation by crenarchaeota. This study reports further characterization of the community by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analysis, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), and semiquantitative nitrification measurements. DGGE bands from three types of samples (filtered water, biofilms on glass slides, and naturally grown biofilms), including samples collected at two distinct times (January 2005 and July 2006), were analyzed. The archaeal community consisted mainly of Crenarchaeota of the soil-subsurface-freshwater group (group 1.1b) and showed a higher diversity than in the previous 16S rRNA gene library analysis, as was also found for crenarchaeal amoA genes. No bacterial amoA genes were detected. FISH analysis of biofilms indicated the presence of archaeal cells with an abundance of 5.3% (±4.5%) in the total 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI)-stained community. Microcosm experiments of several weeks in duration showed a decline of ammonium that correlated with an increase of nitrite, the presence of crenarchaeal amoA genes, and the absence of bacterial amoA genes. The data suggested that only ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) perform the first step of nitrification in this 45°C environment. The crenarchaeal amoA gene sequences grouped within a novel cluster of amoA sequences from the database, originating from geothermally influenced environments, for which we propose the designation “thermal spring” cluster and which may be older than most AOA from soils on earth.
Scanning electron microscopy revealed great morphological diversity in biofilms from several largely unexplored subterranean thermal Alpine springs, which contain radium 226 and radon 222. A culture-independent molecular analysis of microbial communities on rocks and in the water of one spring, the “Franz-Josef-Quelle” in Bad Gastein, Austria, was performed. Four hundred fifteen clones were analyzed. One hundred thirty-two sequences were affiliated with 14 bacterial operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and 283 with four archaeal OTUs. Rarefaction analysis indicated a high diversity of bacterial sequences, while archaeal sequences were less diverse. The majority of the cloned archaeal 16S rRNA gene sequences belonged to the soil-freshwater-subsurface (1.1b) crenarchaeotic group; other representatives belonged to the freshwater-wastewater-soil (1.3b) group, except one clone, which was related to a group of uncultivated Euryarchaeota. These findings support recent reports that Crenarchaeota are not restricted to high-temperature environments. Most of the bacterial sequences were related to the Proteobacteria (α, β, γ, and δ), Bacteroidetes, and Planctomycetes. One OTU was allied with Nitrospina sp. (δ-Proteobacteria) and three others grouped with Nitrospira. Statistical analyses suggested high diversity based on 16S rRNA gene analyses; the rarefaction plot of archaeal clones showed a plateau. Since Crenarchaeota have been implicated recently in the nitrogen cycle, the spring environment was probed for the presence of the ammonia monooxygenase subunit A (amoA) gene. Sequences were obtained which were related to crenarchaeotic amoA genes from marine and soil habitats. The data suggested that nitrification processes are occurring in the subterranean environment and that ammonia may possibly be an energy source for the resident communities.
Extremophilic archaea were stained with the LIVE/DEAD BacLight kit under conditions of high ionic strength and over a pH range of 2.0 to 9.3. The reliability of the kit was tested with haloarchaea following permeabilization of the cells. Microorganisms in hypersaline environmental samples were detectable with the kit, which suggests its potential application to future extraterrestrial halites.