Abstract: Acetate and acetyl-CoA play fundamental roles in all of biology, including anaerobic prokaryotes from the domains Bacteria and Archaea, which compose an estimated quarter of all living protoplasm in Earth’s biosphere. Anaerobes from the domain Archaea contribute to the global carbon cycle by metabolizing acetate as a growth substrate or product. They are components of anaerobic microbial food chains converting complex organic matter to methane, and many fix CO2 into cell material via synthesis of acetyl-CoA. They are found in a diversity of ecological habitats ranging from the digestive tracts of insects to deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and synthesize a plethora of novel enzymes with biotechnological potential. Ecological investigations suggest that still more acetate-metabolizing species with novel properties await discovery.
Abstract: How did life emerge on Earth? The aim of the Network of Researchers on Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Last Universal Cellular Ancestor (NoR HGT & LUCA) is to understand how the genetics of LUCAs were reorganised prior to the advent of the three domains of life. This paper reports the research of eminent scientists who have come together within the network and are making significant contributions to the wider knowledge base surrounding this, one of science’s remaining mysteries. I also report on their relevance in relation to LUCAs and life’s origins, as well as ask a question: what next?
Abstract: Genome annotation errors are a persistent problem that impede research in the biosciences. A manual curation effort is described that attempts to produce high-quality genome annotations for a set of haloarchaeal genomes (Halobacterium salinarum and Hbt. hubeiense, Haloferax volcanii and Hfx. mediterranei, Natronomonas pharaonis and Nmn. moolapensis, Haloquadratum walsbyi strains HBSQ001 and C23, Natrialba magadii, Haloarcula marismortui and Har. hispanica, and Halohasta litchfieldiae). Genomes are checked for missing genes, start codon misassignments, and disrupted genes. Assignments of a specific function are preferably based on experimentally characterized homologs (Gold Standard Proteins). To avoid overannotation, which is a major source of database errors, we restrict annotation to only general function assignments when support for a specific substrate assignment is insufficient. This strategy results in annotations that are resistant to the plethora of errors that compromise public databases. Annotation consistency is rigorously validated for ortholog pairs from the genomes surveyed. The annotation is regularly crosschecked against the UniProt database to further improve annotations and increase the level of standardization. Enhanced genome annotations are submitted to public databases (EMBL/GenBank, UniProt), to the benefit of the scientific community. The enhanced annotations are also publically available via HaloLex.
Abstract: The Halobacteria are a well-studied archaeal class and numerous investigations are showing how their diversity is distributed amongst genomes and geographic locations. Evidence indicates that recombination between species continuously facilitates the arrival of new genes, and within species, it is frequent enough to spread acquired genes amongst all individuals in the population. To create permanent independent diversity and generate new species, barriers to recombination are probably required. The data support an interpretation that rates of evolution (e.g., horizontal gene transfer and mutation) are faster at creating geographically localized variation than dispersal and invasion are at homogenizing genetic differences between locations. Therefore, we suggest that recurrent episodes of dispersal followed by variable periods of endemism break the homogenizing forces of intrapopulation recombination and that this process might be the principal stimulus leading to divergence and speciation in Halobacteria.
Abstract: In their natural habitats, microorganisms are often exposed to periods of starvation if their substrates for energy generation or other nutrients are limiting. Many microorganisms have developed strategies to adapt to fluctuating nutrients and long-term starvation. In the environment, ammonia oxidizers have to compete with many different organisms for ammonium and are often exposed to long periods of ammonium starvation. We investigated the effect of ammonium starvation on ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and bacteria (AOB) enriched from freshwater lake sediments. Both AOA and AOB were able to recover even after almost two months of starvation; however, the recovery time differed. AOA and AOB retained their 16S rRNA (ribosomes) throughout the complete starvation period. The AOA retained also a small portion of the mRNA of the ammonia monooxygenase subunit A (amoA) for the complete starvation period. However, after 10 days, no amoA mRNA was detected anymore in the AOB. These results indicate that AOA and AOB are able to survive longer periods of starvation, but might utilize different strategies.
Abstract: Due to the limited cultivability of the vast majority of microorganisms, researchers have applied environmental genomics and other state-of-the-art technologies to gain insights into the biology of uncultivated Archaea and bacteria in their natural biotope. In this review, we summarize the scientific findings on a recently proposed order-level lineage of uncultivated Archaea called Altiarchaeales, which includes “Candidatus Altiarchaeum hamiconexum” as the most well-described representative. Ca. A. hamiconexum possesses a complex biology: thriving strictly anaerobically, this microorganism is capable of forming highly-pure biofilms, connecting the cells by extraordinary cell surface appendages (the “hami”) and has other highly unusual traits, such as a double-membrane-based cell wall. Indicated by genomic information from different biotopes, the Altiarchaeales seem to proliferate in deep, anoxic groundwater of Earth’s crust bearing a potentially very important function: carbon fixation. Although their net carbon fixation rate has not yet been determined, they appear as highly abundant organisms in their biotopes and may thus represent an important primary producer in the subsurface. In sum, the research over more than a decade on Ca. A. hamiconexum has revealed many interesting features of its lifestyle, its genomic information, metabolism and ultrastructure, making this archaeon one of the best-studied uncultivated Archaea in the literature.