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.
Abstract: Missisquoi Bay (MB) is a temperate eutrophic freshwater lake that frequently experiences toxic Microcystis-dominated cyanobacterial blooms. Non-point sources are responsible for the high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen in the bay. This study combined data from environmental parameters, E. coli counts, high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA gene amplicons, quantitative PCR (16S rRNA and mcyD genes) and toxin analyses to identify the main bloom-promoting factors. In 2009, nutrient concentrations correlated with E. coli counts, abundance of total cyanobacterial cells, Microcystis 16S rRNA and mcyD genes and intracellular microcystin. Total and dissolved phosphorus also correlated significantly with rainfall. The major cyanobacterial taxa were members of the orders Chroococcales and Nostocales. The genus Microcystis was the main mcyD-carrier and main microcystin producer. Our results suggested that increasing nutrient concentrations and total nitrogen:total phosphorus (TN:TP) ratios approaching 11:1, coupled with an increase in temperature, promoted Microcystis-dominated toxic blooms. Although the importance of nutrient ratios and absolute concentrations on cyanobacterial and Microcystis dynamics have been documented in other laboratories, an optimum TN:TP ratio for Microcystis dominance has not been previously observed in situ. This observation provides further support that nutrient ratios are an important determinant of species composition in natural phytoplankton assemblages.
Abstract: Archaea are well-recognized components of the human microbiome. However, they appear to be drastically underrepresented compared to the high diversity of bacterial taxa which can be found on various human anatomic sites, such as the gastrointestinal environment, the oral cavity and the skin. As our “microbial” view of the human body, including the methodological concepts used to describe them, has been traditionally biased on bacteria, the question arises whether our current knowledge reflects the actual ratio of archaea versus bacteria or whether we have failed so far to unravel the full diversity of human-associated archaea. This review article hypothesizes that distinct archaeal lineages within humans exist, which still await our detection. First, previously unrecognized taxa might be quite common but they have eluded conventional detection methods. Two recent prime examples are described that demonstrate that this might be the case for specific archaeal lineages. Second, some archaeal taxa might be overlooked because they are rare and/or in low abundance. Evidence for this exists for a broad range of phylogenetic lineages, however we currently do not know whether these sporadically appearing organisms are mere transients or important members of the so called “rare biosphere” with probably basic ecosystem functions. Lastly, evidence exists that different human populations harbor different archaeal taxa and/or the abundance and activity of shared archaeal taxa may differ and thus their impact on the overall microbiome. This research line is rather unexplored and warrants further investigation. While not recapitulating exhaustively all studies on archaeal diversity in humans, this review highlights pertinent recent findings that show that the choice of appropriate methodological approaches and the consideration of different human populations may lead to the detection of archaeal lineages previously not associated with humans. This in turn will help understand variations found in the overall microbiomes from different individuals and ultimately may lead to the emergence of novel concepts/mechanisms impacting human health.
Life2015, 5(2), 1301-1332; doi:10.3390/life5021301 - published 24 April 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The standard genetic code (SGC) is central to molecular biology and its origin and evolution is a fundamental problem in evolutionary biology, the elucidation of which promises to reveal much about the origins of life. In addition, we propose that study of its origin can also reveal some fundamental and generalizable insights into mechanisms of molecular evolution, utilizing concepts from complexity theory. The first is that beneficial traits may arise by non-adaptive processes, via a process of “neutral emergence”. The structure of the SGC is optimized for the property of error minimization, which reduces the deleterious impact of point mutations. Via simulation, it can be shown that genetic codes with error minimization superior to the SGC can emerge in a neutral fashion simply by a process of genetic code expansion via tRNA and aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase duplication, whereby similar amino acids are added to codons related to that of the parent amino acid. This process of neutral emergence has implications beyond that of the genetic code, as it suggests that not all beneficial traits have arisen by the direct action of natural selection; we term these “pseudaptations”, and discuss a range of potential examples. Secondly, consideration of genetic code deviations (codon reassignments) reveals that these are mostly associated with a reduction in proteome size. This code malleability implies the existence of a proteomic constraint on the genetic code, proportional to the size of the proteome (P), and that its reduction in size leads to an “unfreezing” of the codon – amino acid mapping that defines the genetic code, consistent with Crick’s Frozen Accident theory. The concept of a proteomic constraint may be extended to propose a general informational constraint on genetic fidelity, which may be used to explain variously, differences in mutation rates in genomes with differing proteome sizes, differences in DNA repair capacity and genome GC content between organisms, a selective pressure in the evolution of sexual reproduction, and differences in translational fidelity. Lastly, the utility of the concept of an informational constraint to other diverse fields of research is explored.