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1.  Archaea: The First Domain of Diversified Life 
Archaea  2014;2014:590214.
The study of the origin of diversified life has been plagued by technical and conceptual difficulties, controversy, and apriorism. It is now popularly accepted that the universal tree of life is rooted in the akaryotes and that Archaea and Eukarya are sister groups to each other. However, evolutionary studies have overwhelmingly focused on nucleic acid and protein sequences, which partially fulfill only two of the three main steps of phylogenetic analysis, formulation of realistic evolutionary models, and optimization of tree reconstruction. In the absence of character polarization, that is, the ability to identify ancestral and derived character states, any statement about the rooting of the tree of life should be considered suspect. Here we show that macromolecular structure and a new phylogenetic framework of analysis that focuses on the parts of biological systems instead of the whole provide both deep and reliable phylogenetic signal and enable us to put forth hypotheses of origin. We review over a decade of phylogenomic studies, which mine information in a genomic census of millions of encoded proteins and RNAs. We show how the use of process models of molecular accumulation that comply with Weston's generality criterion supports a consistent phylogenomic scenario in which the origin of diversified life can be traced back to the early history of Archaea.
PMCID: PMC4060292  PMID: 24987307
2.  Diversity of the DNA Replication System in the Archaea Domain 
Archaea  2014;2014:675946.
The precise and timely duplication of the genome is essential for cellular life. It is achieved by DNA replication, a complex process that is conserved among the three domains of life. Even though the cellular structure of archaea closely resembles that of bacteria, the information processing machinery of archaea is evolutionarily more closely related to the eukaryotic system, especially for the proteins involved in the DNA replication process. While the general DNA replication mechanism is conserved among the different domains of life, modifications in functionality and in some of the specialized replication proteins are observed. Indeed, Archaea possess specific features unique to this domain. Moreover, even though the general pattern of the replicative system is the same in all archaea, a great deal of variation exists between specific groups.
PMCID: PMC3984812  PMID: 24790526
3.  Archaeal Genome Guardians Give Insights into Eukaryotic DNA Replication and Damage Response Proteins 
Archaea  2014;2014:206735.
As the third domain of life, archaea, like the eukarya and bacteria, must have robust DNA replication and repair complexes to ensure genome fidelity. Archaea moreover display a breadth of unique habitats and characteristics, and structural biologists increasingly appreciate these features. As archaea include extremophiles that can withstand diverse environmental stresses, they provide fundamental systems for understanding enzymes and pathways critical to genome integrity and stress responses. Such archaeal extremophiles provide critical data on the periodic table for life as well as on the biochemical, geochemical, and physical limitations to adaptive strategies allowing organisms to thrive under environmental stress relevant to determining the boundaries for life as we know it. Specifically, archaeal enzyme structures have informed the architecture and mechanisms of key DNA repair proteins and complexes. With added abilities to temperature-trap flexible complexes and reveal core domains of transient and dynamic complexes, these structures provide insights into mechanisms of maintaining genome integrity despite extreme environmental stress. The DNA damage response protein structures noted in this review therefore inform the basis for genome integrity in the face of environmental stress, with implications for all domains of life as well as for biomanufacturing, astrobiology, and medicine.
PMCID: PMC3950489  PMID: 24701133
4.  Close Encounters of the Third Domain: The Emerging Genomic View of Archaeal Diversity and Evolution 
Archaea  2013;2013:202358.
The Archaea represent the so-called Third Domain of life, which has evolved in parallel with the Bacteria and which is implicated to have played a pivotal role in the emergence of the eukaryotic domain of life. Recent progress in genomic sequencing technologies and cultivation-independent methods has started to unearth a plethora of data of novel, uncultivated archaeal lineages. Here, we review how the availability of such genomic data has revealed several important insights into the diversity, ecological relevance, metabolic capacity, and the origin and evolution of the archaeal domain of life.
PMCID: PMC3852633  PMID: 24348093
5.  The Common Ancestor of Archaea and Eukarya Was Not an Archaeon 
Archaea  2013;2013:372396.
It is often assumed that eukarya originated from archaea. This view has been recently supported by phylogenetic analyses in which eukarya are nested within archaea. Here, I argue that these analyses are not reliable, and I critically discuss archaeal ancestor scenarios, as well as fusion scenarios for the origin of eukaryotes. Based on recognized evolutionary trends toward reduction in archaea and toward complexity in eukarya, I suggest that their last common ancestor was more complex than modern archaea but simpler than modern eukaryotes (the bug in-between scenario). I propose that the ancestors of archaea (and bacteria) escaped protoeukaryotic predators by invading high temperature biotopes, triggering their reductive evolution toward the “prokaryotic” phenotype (the thermoreduction hypothesis). Intriguingly, whereas archaea and eukarya share many basic features at the molecular level, the archaeal mobilome resembles more the bacterial than the eukaryotic one. I suggest that selection of different parts of the ancestral virosphere at the onset of the three domains played a critical role in shaping their respective biology. Eukarya probably evolved toward complexity with the help of retroviruses and large DNA viruses, whereas similar selection pressure (thermoreduction) could explain why the archaeal and bacterial mobilomes somehow resemble each other.
PMCID: PMC3855935  PMID: 24348094
6.  Protein Adaptations in Archaeal Extremophiles 
Archaea  2013;2013:373275.
Extremophiles, especially those in Archaea, have a myriad of adaptations that keep their cellular proteins stable and active under the extreme conditions in which they live. Rather than having one basic set of adaptations that works for all environments, Archaea have evolved separate protein features that are customized for each environment. We categorized the Archaea into three general groups to describe what is known about their protein adaptations: thermophilic, psychrophilic, and halophilic. Thermophilic proteins tend to have a prominent hydrophobic core and increased electrostatic interactions to maintain activity at high temperatures. Psychrophilic proteins have a reduced hydrophobic core and a less charged protein surface to maintain flexibility and activity under cold temperatures. Halophilic proteins are characterized by increased negative surface charge due to increased acidic amino acid content and peptide insertions, which compensates for the extreme ionic conditions. While acidophiles, alkaliphiles, and piezophiles are their own class of Archaea, their protein adaptations toward pH and pressure are less discernible. By understanding the protein adaptations used by archaeal extremophiles, we hope to be able to engineer and utilize proteins for industrial, environmental, and biotechnological applications where function in extreme conditions is required for activity.
PMCID: PMC3787623  PMID: 24151449
7.  Ribonucleoproteins in Archaeal Pre-rRNA Processing and Modification 
Archaea  2013;2013:614735.
Given that ribosomes are one of the most important cellular macromolecular machines, it is not surprising that there is intensive research in ribosome biogenesis. Ribosome biogenesis is a complex process. The maturation of ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) requires not only the precise cleaving and folding of the pre-rRNA but also extensive nucleotide modifications. At the heart of the processing and modifications of pre-rRNAs in Archaea and Eukarya are ribonucleoprotein (RNP) machines. They are called small RNPs (sRNPs), in Archaea, and small nucleolar RNPs (snoRNPs), in Eukarya. Studies on ribosome biogenesis originally focused on eukaryotic systems. However, recent studies on archaeal sRNPs have provided important insights into the functions of these RNPs. This paper will introduce archaeal rRNA gene organization and pre-rRNA processing, with a particular focus on the discovery of the archaeal sRNP components, their functions in nucleotide modification, and their structures.
PMCID: PMC3608112  PMID: 23554567
8.  Contribution of Transcriptomics to Systems-Level Understanding of Methanogenic Archaea 
Archaea  2013;2013:586369.
Methane-producing Archaea are of interest due to their contribution to atmospheric change and for their roles in technological applications including waste treatment and biofuel production. Although restricted to anaerobic environments, methanogens are found in a wide variety of habitats, where they commonly live in syntrophic relationships with bacterial partners. Owing to tight thermodynamic constraints of methanogenesis alone or in syntrophic metabolism, methanogens must carefully regulate their catabolic pathways including the regulation of RNA transcripts. The transcriptome is a dynamic and important control point in microbial systems. This paper assesses the impact of mRNA (transcriptome) studies on the understanding of methanogenesis with special consideration given to how methanogenesis is regulated to cope with nutrient limitation, environmental variability, and interactions with syntrophic partners. In comparison with traditional microarray-based transcriptome analyses, next-generation high-throughput RNA sequencing is greatly advantageous in assessing transcription start sites, the extent of 5′ untranslated regions, operonic structure, and the presence of small RNAs. We are still in the early stages of understanding RNA regulation but it is already clear that determinants beyond transcript abundance are highly relevant to the lifestyles of methanogens, requiring further study.
PMCID: PMC3600222  PMID: 23533330
9.  Mechanisms of Metal Resistance and Homeostasis in Haloarchaea 
Archaea  2013;2013:732864.
Haloarchaea are the predominant microflora of hypersaline econiches such as solar salterns, soda lakes, and estuaries where the salinity ranges from 35 to 400 ppt. Econiches like estuaries and solar crystallizer ponds may contain high concentrations of metals since they serve as ecological sinks for metal pollution and also as effective traps for river borne metals. The availability of metals in these econiches is determined by the type of metal complexes formed and the solubility of the metal species at such high salinity. Haloarchaea have developed specialized mechanisms for the uptake of metals required for various key physiological processes and are not readily available at high salinity, beside evolving resistance mechanisms for metals with high solubility. The present paper seeks to give an overview of the main molecular mechanisms involved in metal tolerance in haloarchaea and focuses on factors such as salinity and metal speciation that affect the bioavailability of metals to haloarchaea. Global transcriptomic analysis during metal stress in these organisms will help in determining the various factors differentially regulated and essential for metal physiology.
PMCID: PMC3600143  PMID: 23533331
10.  Archaea in Symbioses 
Archaea  2012;2012:596846.
During the last few years, the analysis of microbial diversity in various habitats greatly increased our knowledge on the kingdom Archaea. At the same time, we became aware of the multiple ways in which Archaea may interact with each other and with organisms of other kingdoms. The large group of euryarchaeal methanogens and their methane oxidizing relatives, in particular, take part in essential steps of the global methane cycle. Both of these processes, which are in reverse to each other, are partially conducted in a symbiotic interaction with different partners, either ciliates and xylophagous animals or sulfate reducing bacteria. Other symbiotic interactions are mostly of unknown ecological significance but depend on highly specific mechanisms. This paper will give an overview on interactions between Archaea and other organisms and will point out the ecological relevance of these symbiotic processes, as long as these have been already recognized.
PMCID: PMC3544247  PMID: 23326206
11.  Phylogenomic Investigation of Phospholipid Synthesis in Archaea 
Archaea  2012;2012:630910.
Archaea have idiosyncratic cell membranes usually based on phospholipids containing glycerol-1-phosphate linked by ether bonds to isoprenoid lateral chains. Since these phospholipids strongly differ from those of bacteria and eukaryotes, the origin of the archaeal membranes (and by extension, of all cellular membranes) was enigmatic and called for accurate evolutionary studies. In this paper we review some recent phylogenomic studies that have revealed a modified mevalonate pathway for the synthesis of isoprenoid precursors in archaea and suggested that this domain uses an atypical pathway of synthesis of fatty acids devoid of any acyl carrier protein, which is essential for this activity in bacteria and eukaryotes. In addition, we show new or updated phylogenetic analyses of enzymes likely responsible for the isoprenoid chain synthesis from their precursors and the phospholipid synthesis from glycerol phosphate, isoprenoids, and polar head groups. These results support that most of these enzymes can be traced back to the last archaeal common ancestor and, in many cases, even to the last common ancestor of all living organisms.
PMCID: PMC3533463  PMID: 23304072
12.  Rings in the Extreme: PCNA Interactions and Adaptations in the Archaea 
Archaea  2012;2012:951010.
Biochemical and structural analysis of archaeal proteins has enabled us to gain great insight into many eukaryotic processes, simultaneously offering fascinating glimpses into the adaptation and evolution of proteins at the extremes of life. The archaeal PCNAs, central to DNA replication and repair, are no exception. Characterisation of the proteins alone, and in complex with both peptides and protein binding partners, has demonstrated the diversity and subtlety in the regulatory role of these sliding clamps. Equally, studies have provided valuable detailed insight into the adaptation of protein interactions and mechanisms that are necessary for life in extreme environments.
PMCID: PMC3504372  PMID: 23209375
13.  Lipids of Archaeal Viruses 
Archaea  2012;2012:384919.
Archaeal viruses represent one of the least known territory of the viral universe and even less is known about their lipids. Based on the current knowledge, however, it seems that, as in other viruses, archaeal viral lipids are mostly incorporated into membranes that reside either as outer envelopes or membranes inside an icosahedral capsid. Mechanisms for the membrane acquisition seem to be similar to those of viruses infecting other host organisms. There are indications that also some proteins of archaeal viruses are lipid modified. Further studies on the characterization of lipids in archaeal viruses as well as on their role in virion assembly and infectivity require not only highly purified viral material but also, for example, constant evaluation of the adaptability of emerging technologies for their analysis. Biological membranes contain proteins and membranes of archaeal viruses are not an exception. Archaeal viruses as relatively simple systems can be used as excellent tools for studying the lipid protein interactions in archaeal membranes.
PMCID: PMC3461281  PMID: 23049284
14.  On Physical Properties of Tetraether Lipid Membranes: Effects of Cyclopentane Rings 
Archaea  2012;2012:138439.
This paper reviews the recent findings related to the physical properties of tetraether lipid membranes, with special attention to the effects of the number, position, and configuration of cyclopentane rings on membrane properties. We discuss the findings obtained from liposomes and monolayers, composed of naturally occurring archaeal tetraether lipids and synthetic tetraethers as well as the results from computer simulations. It appears that the number, position, and stereochemistry of cyclopentane rings in the dibiphytanyl chains of tetraether lipids have significant influence on packing tightness, lipid conformation, membrane thickness and organization, and headgroup hydration/orientation.
PMCID: PMC3458407  PMID: 23028246
15.  Thermal Adaptation of the Archaeal and Bacterial Lipid Membranes 
Archaea  2012;2012:789652.
The physiological characteristics that distinguish archaeal and bacterial lipids, as well as those that define thermophilic lipids, are discussed from three points of view that (1) the role of the chemical stability of lipids in the heat tolerance of thermophilic organisms: (2) the relevance of the increase in the proportion of certain lipids as the growth temperature increases: (3) the lipid bilayer membrane properties that enable membranes to function at high temperatures. It is concluded that no single, chemically stable lipid by itself was responsible for the adaptation of surviving at high temperatures. Lipid membranes that function effectively require the two properties of a high permeability barrier and a liquid crystalline state. Archaeal membranes realize these two properties throughout the whole biological temperature range by means of their isoprenoid chains. Bacterial membranes meet these requirements only at or just above the phase-transition temperature, and therefore their fatty acid composition must be elaborately regulated. A recent hypothesis sketched a scenario of the evolution of lipids in which the “lipid divide” emerged concomitantly with the differentiation of archaea and bacteria. The two modes of thermal adaptation were established concurrently with the “lipid divide.”
PMCID: PMC3426160  PMID: 22927779
16.  The Bridge Helix of RNA Polymerase Acts as a Central Nanomechanical Switchboard for Coordinating Catalysis and Substrate Movement 
Archaea  2012;2011:608385.
The availability of in vitro assembly systems to produce recombinant archaeal RNA polymerases (RNAPs) offers one of the most powerful experimental tools for investigating the still relatively poorly understood molecular mechanisms underlying RNAP function. Over the last few years, we pioneered new robot-based high-throughput mutagenesis approaches to study structure/function relationships within various domains surrounding the catalytic center. The Bridge Helix domain, which appears in numerous X-ray structures as a 35-amino-acid-long alpha helix, coordinates the concerted movement of several other domains during catalysis through kinking of two discrete molecular hinges. Mutations affecting these kinking mechanisms have a direct effect on the specific catalytic activity of RNAP and can in some instances more than double it. Molecular dynamics simulations have established themselves as exceptionally useful for providing additional insights and detailed models to explain the underlying structural motions.
PMCID: PMC3270539  PMID: 22312317
17.  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
18.  Synthesis, Production, and Biotechnological Applications of Exopolysaccharides and Polyhydroxyalkanoates by Archaea 
Archaea  2011;2011:693253.
Extreme environments, generally characterized by atypical temperatures, pH, pressure, salinity, toxicity, and radiation levels, are inhabited by various microorganisms specifically adapted to these particular conditions, called extremophiles. Among these, the microorganisms belonging to the Archaea domain are of significant biotechnological importance as their biopolymers possess unique properties that offer insights into their biology and evolution. Particular attention has been devoted to two main types of biopolymers produced by such peculiar microorganisms, that is, the extracellular polysaccharides (EPSs), considered as a protection against desiccation and predation, and the endocellular polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) that provide an internal reserve of carbon and energy. Here, we report the composition, biosynthesis, and production of EPSs and PHAs by different archaeal species.
PMCID: PMC3191746  PMID: 22007151
19.  More Than 200 Genes Required for Methane Formation from H2 and CO2 and Energy Conservation Are Present in Methanothermobacter marburgensis and Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus 
Archaea  2011;2011:973848.
The hydrogenotrophic methanogens Methanothermobacter marburgensis and Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus can easily be mass cultured. They have therefore been used almost exclusively to study the biochemistry of methanogenesis from H2 and CO2, and the genomes of these two model organisms have been sequenced. The close relationship of the two organisms is reflected in their genomic architecture and coding potential. Within the 1,607 protein coding sequences (CDS) in common, we identified approximately 200 CDS required for the synthesis of the enzymes, coenzymes, and prosthetic groups involved in CO2 reduction to methane and in coupling this process with the phosphorylation of ADP. Approximately 20 additional genes, such as those for the biosynthesis of F430 and methanofuran and for the posttranslational modifications of the two methyl-coenzyme M reductases, remain to be identified.
PMCID: PMC3087415  PMID: 21559116
20.  Hot Transcriptomics 
Archaea  2011;2010:897585.
DNA microarray technology allows for a quick and easy comparison of complete transcriptomes, resulting in improved molecular insight in fluctuations of gene expression. After emergence of the microarray technology about a decade ago, the technique has now matured and has become routine in many molecular biology laboratories. Numerous studies have been performed that have provided global transcription patterns of many organisms under a wide range of conditions. Initially, implementation of this high-throughput technology has lead to high expectations for ground breaking discoveries. Here an evaluation is performed of the insight that transcriptome analysis has brought about in the field of hyperthermophilic archaea. The examples that will be discussed have been selected on the basis of their impact, in terms of either biological insight or technological progress.
PMCID: PMC3038420  PMID: 21350598
21.  Methanogens: Methane Producers of the Rumen and Mitigation Strategies 
Archaea  2010;2010:945785.
Methanogens are the only known microorganisms capable of methane production, making them of interest when investigating methane abatement strategies. A number of experiments have been conducted to study the methanogen population in the rumen of cattle and sheep, as well as the relationship that methanogens have with other microorganisms. The rumen methanogen species differ depending on diet and geographical location of the host, as does methanogenesis, which can be reduced by modifying dietary composition, or by supplementation of monensin, lipids, organic acids, or plant compounds within the diet. Other methane abatement strategies that have been investigated are defaunation and vaccines. These mitigation methods target the methanogen population of the rumen directly or indirectly, resulting in varying degrees of efficacy. This paper describes the methanogens identified in the rumens of cattle and sheep, as well as a number of methane mitigation strategies that have been effective in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3021854  PMID: 21253540
22.  The Discussion Goes on: What Is the Role of Euryarchaeota in Humans? 
Archaea  2010;2010:967271.
The human body (primarily the intestinal tract, the oral cavity, and the skin) harbours approximately 1,000 different bacterial species. However, the number of archaeal species known to colonize man seems to be confined to a handful of organisms within the class Euryarchaeota (including Methanobrevibacter smithii, M. oralis, and Methanosphaera stadtmanae). In contrast to this conspicuously low diversity of Archaea in humans their unique physiology in conjunction with the growing number of reports regarding their occurrence at sites of infection has made this issue an emerging field of study. While previous review articles in recent years have addressed the putative role of particularly methanogenic archaea for human health and disease, this paper compiles novel experimental data that have been reported since then. The aim of this paper is to inspire the scientific community of “Archaea experts” for those unique archaeal organisms that have successfully participated in the human-microbe coevolution.
PMCID: PMC3021867  PMID: 21253553
23.  The Lrp Family of Transcription Regulators in Archaea 
Archaea  2010;2010:750457.
Archaea possess a eukaryotic-type basal transcription apparatus that is regulated by bacteria-like transcription regulators. A universal and abundant family of transcription regulators are the bacterial/archaeal Lrp-like regulators. The Lrp family is one of the best studied regulator families in archaea, illustrated by investigations of proteins from the archaeal model organisms: Sulfolobus, Pyrococcus, Methanocaldococcus, and Halobacterium. These regulators are extremely versatile in their DNA-binding properties, response to effector molecules, and molecular regulatory mechanisms. Besides being involved in the regulation of the amino acid metabolism, they also regulate central metabolic processes. It appears that these regulatory proteins are also involved in large regulatory networks, because of hierarchical regulations and the possible combinatorial use of different Lrp-like proteins. Here, we discuss the recent developments in our understanding of this important class of regulators.
PMCID: PMC2995911  PMID: 21151646
24.  Two Major Archaeal Pseudomurein Endoisopeptidases: PeiW and PeiP 
Archaea  2010;2010:480492.
PeiW (UniProtKB Q7LYX0) and PeiP (UniProtKB Q77WJ4) are the two major pseudomurein endoisopeptidases (Pei) that are known to cleave pseudomurein cell-wall sacculi of the members of the methanogenic orders Methanobacteriales and Methanopyrales. Both enzymes, originating from prophages specific for some methanogenic archaeal species, hydrolyze the ϵ(Ala)-Lys bond of the peptide linker between adjacent pseudomurein layers. Because lysozyme is not able to cleave the pseudomurein cell wall, the enzymes are used in protoplast preparation and in DNA isolation from pseudomurein cell-wall-containing methanogens. Moreover, PeiW increases the probe permeability ratio and enables fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and catalyzed reporter deposition (CARD-) FISH experiments to be performed on these methanogens.
PMCID: PMC2989375  PMID: 21113291
25.  Iron-Sulfur World in Aerobic and Hyperthermoacidophilic Archaea Sulfolobus 
Archaea  2010;2010:842639.
The general importance of the Fe-S cluster prosthetic groups in biology is primarily attributable to specific features of iron and sulfur chemistry, and the assembly and interplay of the Fe-S cluster core with the surrounding protein is the key to in-depth understanding of the underlying mechanisms. In the aerobic and thermoacidophilic archaea, zinc-containing ferredoxin is abundant in the cytoplasm, functioning as a key electron carrier, and many Fe-S enzymes are produced to participate in the central metabolic and energetic pathways. De novo formation of intracellular Fe-S clusters does not occur spontaneously but most likely requires the operation of a SufBCD complex of the SUF machinery, which is the only Fe-S cluster biosynthesis system conserved in these archaea. In this paper, a brief introduction to the buildup and maintenance of the intracellular Fe-S world in aerobic and hyperthermoacidophilic crenarchaeotes, mainly Sulfolobus, is given in the biochemical, genetic, and evolutionary context.
PMCID: PMC2946596  PMID: 20885930

Results 1-25 (36)