Two pioneers of twentieth century biology passed away during the past decade, Wolfram Zillig in April 2005 and Carl Woese in December 2012. Among several other accomplishments, Woese has been celebrated for the discovery of the domain Archaea and for establishing rRNA as the 'Rosetta Stone' of evolutionary and environmental microbiology. His work inspired many scientists in various fields of biology, and among them was Wolfram Zillig, who is credited with the discovery of several unique molecular features of archaea. In this Essay, we highlight the remarkable achievements of Woese and Zillig and consider how they have shaped the archaeal research landscape.
Transfer of DNA has been shown to be involved in genome evolution. In particular with respect to the adaptation of bacterial species to high temperatures, DNA transfer between the domains of bacteria and archaea seems to have played a major role. In addition, DNA exchange between similar species likely plays a role in repair of DNA via homologous recombination, a process that is crucial under DNA damaging conditions such as high temperatures. Several mechanisms for the transfer of DNA have been described in prokaryotes, emphasizing its general importance. However, until recently, not much was known about this process in prokaryotes growing in highly thermophilic environments. This review describes the different mechanisms of DNA transfer in hyperthermophiles, and how this may contribute to the survival and adaptation of hyperthermophilic archaea and bacteria to extreme environments.
Recently, the S-layer protein of Sulfolobus acidocaldarius was shown to be N-linked with a tribranched hexasaccharide, composed of Man2Glc1GlcNAc2 and a sulfated sugar called sulfoquinovose. To identify genes involved in the biosynthesis and attachment of this glycan, markerless in-frame deletions of genes coding for predicted glycosyltransferases were created. The successful deletion of agl16, coding for a glycosyltransferase, resulted in the S-layer protein and archaellins having reduced molecular weights, as visualized by Coomassie staining or immunoblotting. This analysis indicated a change in the N-glycan composition. Nano-liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) analyses confirmed that the glycan of the S-layer protein from the agl16 deletion mutant was a pentasaccharide, which was missing a terminal hexose residue. High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) analyses of the hydrolyzed N-glycan indicated that the missing hexose is a glucose residue. A physiological characterization of the agl16 deletion mutant revealed a significant effect on the growth at elevated salt concentrations. At 300 mM NaCl, the doubling time of the Δagl16 mutant was increased 2-fold compared to that of the background strain. Furthermore, the incomplete glycan structure of the Δagl16 deletion strain affected the assembly and function of the archaellum, as exemplified by semisolid Gelrite plate analysis, in which the motility is decreased according to the N-glycan size.
Every living cell is covered with a dense and complex array of covalently attached sugars or sugar chains. The majority of these glycans are linked to proteins via the so-called glycosylation process. Protein glycosylation is found in all three domains of life: Eukarya, Bacteria and Archaea. However, on the basis of the limit in analytic tools for glycobiology and genetics in Archaea, only in the last few years has research on archaeal glycosylation pathways started mainly in the Euryarchaeota Haloferax volcanii, Methanocaldococcus maripaludis and Methanococcus voltae. Recently, major steps of the crenarchaeal glycosylation process of the thermoacidophilic archaeon Sulfolobus acidocaldarius have been described. The present review summarizes the proposed N-glycosylation pathway of S. acidocaldarius, describing the phenotypes of the mutants disrupted in N-glycan biosynthesis as well as giving insights into the archaeal O-linked and glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchor glycosylation process.
Sa-Lrp is a member of the leucine-responsive regulatory protein (Lrp)-like family of transcriptional regulators in Sulfolobus acidocaldarius. Previously, we demonstrated the binding of Sa-Lrp to the control region of its own gene in vitro. However, the function and cofactor of Sa-Lrp remained an enigma. In this work, we demonstrate that glutamine is the cofactor of Sa-Lrp by inducing the formation of octamers and increasing the DNA-binding affinity and sequence specificity. In vitro protein-DNA interaction assays indicate that Sa-Lrp binds to promoter regions of genes with a variety of functions including ammonia assimilation, transcriptional control, and UV-induced pili synthesis. DNA binding occurs with a specific affinity for AT-rich binding sites, and the protein induces DNA bending and wrapping upon binding, indicating an architectural role of the regulator. Furthermore, by analyzing an Sa-lrp deletion mutant, we demonstrate that the protein affects transcription of some of the genes of which the promoter region is targeted and that it is an important determinant of the cellular aggregation phenotype. Taking all these results into account, we conclude that Sa-Lrp is a glutamine-responsive global transcriptional regulator with an additional architectural role.
Archaella are the archaeal motility structure, which are structurally similar to gram-negative bacterial type IV pili but functionally resemble bacterial flagella. Structural and biochemical data of archaellum subunits are missing. FlaX, a conserved subunit in crenarchaeal archaella, formed high molecular weight complexes that adapted a ring-like structure with an approximate diameter of 30 nm. The C-terminus of FlaX was not only involved in the oligomerization, but also essential for FlaX interaction with FlaI, the bifunctional ATPase which is involved in assembly and rotation of the archaellum. This study gives first insights in the assembly apparatus of archaella.
Motility structures, called flagella, have been described in all three domains of life: Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya. These structures are well studied in both Bacteria and Eukarya. However, already in eukaryotes there exists some confusion as to whether these structures should actually be called cilia. With increased studies conducted on organisms of the third domain of life, the Archaea, it has become clear that the archaeal flagellum only functionally appears similar to the bacterial flagellum, whereas it structurally resembles a bacterial type IV pilus. To resolve confusion due to unclear nomenclature, we propose renaming the archaeal flagellum as the 'archaellum'. This will make clear that the archaellum and the bacterial flagellum are two distinct structures that happen to both be used to enable microorganisms to swim.
Analyses of the DNA replication-associated proteins of hyperthermophilic archaea have yielded considerable insight into the structure and biochemical function of these evolutionarily conserved factors. However, little is known about the regulation and progression of DNA replication in the context of archaeal cells. In the current work, we describe the generation of strains of Sulfolobus solfataricus and Sulfolobus acidocaldarius that allow the incorporation of nucleoside analogues during DNA replication. We employ this technology, in conjunction with immunolocalization analyses of replisomes, to investigate the sub-cellular localization of nascent DNA and replisomes. Our data reveal a peripheral localization of replisomes in the cell. Furthermore, while the two replication forks emerging from any one of the three replication origins in the Sulfolobus chromosome remain in close proximity, the three origin loci are separated.
Eukarya and, more recently, some bacteria have been shown to rely on a cytoskeleton-based apparatus to drive chromosome segregation. In contrast, the factors and mechanisms underpinning this fundamental process are underexplored in archaea, the third domain of life. Here we establish that the archaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus harbors a hybrid segrosome consisting of two interacting proteins, SegA and SegB, that play a key role in genome segregation in this organism. SegA is an ortholog of bacterial, Walker-type ParA proteins, whereas SegB is an archaea-specific factor lacking sequence identity to either eukaryotic or bacterial proteins, but sharing homology with a cluster of uncharacterized factors conserved in both crenarchaea and euryarchaea, the two major archaeal sub-phyla. We show that SegA is an ATPase that polymerizes in vitro and that SegB is a site-specific DNA-binding protein contacting palindromic sequences located upstream of the segAB cassette. SegB interacts with SegA in the presence of nucleotides and dramatically affects its polymerization dynamics. Our data demonstrate that SegB strongly stimulates SegA polymerization, possibly by promoting SegA nucleation and accelerating polymer growth. Increased expression levels of segAB resulted in severe growth and chromosome segregation defects, including formation of anucleate cells, compact nucleoids confined to one half of the cell compartment and fragmented nucleoids. The overall picture emerging from our findings indicates that the SegAB complex fulfills a crucial function in chromosome segregation and is the prototype of a DNA partition machine widespread across archaea.
Compared to Sulfolobus solfataricus P2, the S. solfataricus mutant PBL2025 misses 50 genes (SSO3004-3050), including genes coding for a multitude of enzymes possibly involved in sugar degradation or metabolism. We complemented PBL2025 with two of the missing proteins, the α-mannosidase (SSO3006, Ssα-man) and the β-galactosidase LacS (SSO3019), and performed comparative fluorescence microscopy and confocal laser scanning microscopy to analyze the recombinant strains. We demonstrated that the Ssα-man complemented strain resembled the S. solfataricus P2 behavior with respect to attachment of cells to glass and growth of cells in static biofilms. During expression of the Ssα-man, but not LacS, glucose and mannose-containing extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) levels changed in the recombinant strain during surface attachment and biofilm formation. These results suggest that the Ssα-man might be involved in the modulation of the EPS composition and/or in the de-mannosylation of the glycan tree, which is attached to extracellular glycosylated proteins in S. solfataricus. On the other hand, LacS expression in PBL2025 reduced the carbohydrate content of the isolated total EPS implying a role in the modulation of the produced EPS during static biofilm formation. These are the first enzymes identified as playing a role in archaeal EPS formation.
Recently, the Surface (S)-layer glycoprotein of the thermoacidophilic crenarchaeote Sulfolobus acidocaldarius was found to be N-glycosylated with a heterogeneous family of glycans, with the largest having a composition Glc(1)Man(2)GlcNAc(2) plus 6-sulfoquinovose. However, genetic analyses of genes involved in the N-glycosylation process in Crenarchaeota were missing so far. In this study we identify a gene cluster involved in the biosynthesis of sulfoquinovose and important for the assembly of the S-layer N-glycans. A successful markerless in-frame deletion of agl3 resulted in a decreased molecular mass of the S-layer glycoprotein SlaA and the flagellin FlaB, indicating a change in the N-glycan composition. Analyses with nanoLC ES-MS/MS confirmed the presence of only a reduced trisaccharide structure composed of Man(1) GlcNAc(2) , missing the sulfoquinovose, a mannose and glucose. Biochemical studies of the recombinant Agl3 confirmed the proposed function as a UDP-sulfoquinovose synthase. Furthermore, S. acidocaldarius cells lacking agl3 had a significantly lower growth rate at elevated salt concentrations compared with the background strain, underlining the importance of the N-glycosylation to maintain an intact and stable cell envelope, to enable the survival of S. acidocaldarius in its extreme environment.
Biofilms are currently viewed as the most common form in which microorganisms exist in nature. Bacterial biofilms play important roles in disease and industrial applications, and they have been studied in great detail. Although it is well accepted that archaea are not only the extremists they were thought to be as they occupy nearly every habitat where also bacteria are found, it is surprising how little molecular details are known about archaeal biofilm formation. Therefore, we aim to highlight the available information and indicate open questions in this field.
Like bacteria, archaea predominately exist as biofilms in nature. However, the environmental cues and the molecular mechanisms driving archaeal biofilm development are not characterized. Here we provide data suggesting that the transcriptional regulators belonging to the Lrs14-like protein family constitute a key regulatory factor during Sulfolobus biofilm development. Among the six lrs14-like genes encoded by Sulfolobus acidocaldarius, the deletion of three led to markedly altered biofilm phenotypes. Although Δsaci1223 and Δsaci1242 deletion mutants were impaired in biofilm formation, the Δsaci0446 deletion strain exhibited a highly increased extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) production, leading to a robust biofilm structure. Moreover, although the expression of the adhesive pili (aap) genes was upregulated, the genes of the motility structure, the archaellum (fla), were downregulated rendering the Δsaci0446 strain non-motile. Gel shift assays confirmed that Saci0446 bound to the promoter regions of fla and aap thus controlling the expression of both cell surface structures. In addition, genetic epistasis analysis using Δsaci0446 as background strain identified a gene cluster involved in the EPS biosynthetic pathway of S. acidocaldarius. These results provide insights into both the molecular mechanisms that govern biofilm formation in Crenarchaea and the functionality of the Lrs14-like proteins, an archaea-specific class of transcriptional regulators.
Sonja-Verena Albers's insight:
Desription of a new class of unique archaeal regulators, that are involved in biofilm fomration
Linking the motility apparatus to signal transduction systems enables microbes to precisely control their swimming behaviour according to environmental conditions. Bacteria have therefore evolved a complex chemotaxis machinery, which has presumably spread through lateral gene transfer into the euryarchaeal subkingdom. By contrast Crenarchaeota encode no chemotaxis-like proteins but are nevertheless able to connect external stimuli to archaellar derived motility. This raises fundamental questions about the underlying regulatory mechanisms. Recently, we reported that the thermoacidophilic crenarchaeon Sulfolobus acidocaldarius becomes motile upon nutrient starvation by promoting transcription of flaB encoding the filament forming subunits. Here we describe two transcriptional activators as paralogous one-component-systems Saci_1180 and Saci_1171 (ArnR and ArnR1). Deletions of arnR and arnR1 resulted in diminished flaB expression and accordingly the deletion mutants revealed impaired swimming motility. We further identified two inverted repeat sequences located upstream of the flaB core promoter of S. acidocaldarius. These cis-regulatory elements were shown to be critical for ArnR and ArnR1 mediated flaB gene expression in vivo. Finally, bioinformatic analysis revealed ArnR to be conserved not only in Sulfolobales but also in the crenarchaeal order of Desulfurococcales and thus might represent a more general control mechanism of archaeal motility.
Sonja-Verena Albers's insight:
The positive regulators of archaellum biosynthesis in Sulfolobus acidocaldarius
Sulfolobus solfataricus P2 is a thermoacidophilic archaeon that metabolizes glucose and galactose via an unusual branched Entner-Doudoroff (ED) pathway, which is characterized by a non-phosphorylative (np) and a semi-phosphorylative (sp) branch. However, so far the physiological significance of the two pathway branches is unknown. In order to address these questions two key enzymes of the branched ED pathway, the class II glycerate kinase (GK) of the np-ED branch and the 2-keto-3-deoxygluconate kinase (KDGK) of the sp-ED branch in S. solfataricus, were investigated. GK was recombinantly purified and characterized with respect to its kinetic properties. Mg(2+) dependent Sso-GK (glycerate + ATP → 2-phosphoglycerate + ADP) showed unusual regulatory properties, i.e. substrate inhibition and cooperativity by d-glycerate and ATP, and a substrate-inhibition model was established fitting closely to the experimental data. Furthermore, deletion of the sp-ED key enzyme KDGK in S. solfataricus PBL2025 resulted in a similar growth phenotype on glucose as substrate compared with the wild-type. In contrast, the mutant showed strongly increased concentrations of np-ED intermediates whereas the hexose and pentose phosphates as well as trehalose were decreased. Together the results indicate (a) that the np-ED pathway is able to compensate for the missing sp-ED branch in glucose catabolism, (b) that in addition to its catabolic function the sp-ED pathway has an additional although not essential role in providing sugar phosphates for anabolism/gluconeogenesis and (c) that GK, with its unusual regulatory properties, seems to play a major role in controlling the flux between the glycolytic np-ED and the glycolytic/gluconeogenetic sp-ED pathway. DATABASE: The amino acid sequence data of GK of S. solfataricus P2 is available in the UniProt Protein Database under the accession number Q7LXP1 (http://www.uniprot.org/uniprot/Q7LXP1).
Archaea have evolved fascinating surface structures allowing rapid adaptation to changing environments. The archaeal surface appendages display such diverse biological roles as motility, adhesion, biofilm formation, exchange of genetic material and species-specific interactions and, in turn, increase fitness of the cells. Intriguingly, despite sharing the same functions with their bacterial counterparts, the assembly mechanism of many archaeal surface structures is rather related to assembly of bacterial type IV pili. This review summarizes our state-of-the-art knowledge about unique structural and biochemical properties of archaeal surface appendages with a particular focus on archaeal type IV pili-like structures. The latter comprise not only widely distributed archaella (formerly known as archaeal flagella), but also different highly specialized archaeal pili, which are often restricted to certain species. Recent findings regarding assembly mechanisms, structural aspects and physiological roles of these type IV pili-like structures will be discussed in detail. Recently, first regulatory proteins involved in transition from both planktonic to sessile lifestyle and in assembly of archaella were identified. To conclude, we provide novel insights into regulatory mechanisms underlying the assembly of archaeal surface structures.
Archaea display a variety of type IV pili on their surface and employ them in different physiological functions. In the crenarchaeon Sulfolobus acidocaldarius the most abundant surface structure is the aap pilus (archaeal adhesive pilus). The construction of in frame deletions of the aap genes revealed that all the five genes (aapA, aapX, aapE, aapF, aapB) are indispensible for assembly of the pilus and an impact on surface motility and biofilm formation was observed. Our analyses revealed that there exists a regulatory cross-talk between the expression of aap genes and archaella (formerly archaeal flagella) genes during different growth phases. The structure of the aap pilus is entirely different from the known bacterial type IV pili as well as other archaeal type IV pili. An aap pilus displayed 3 stranded helices where there is a rotation per subunit of ∼ 138° and a rise per subunit of ∼ 5.7 Å. The filaments have a diameter of ∼ 110 Å and the resolution was judged to be ∼ 9 Å. We concluded that small changes in sequence might be amplified by large changes in higher-order packing. Our finding of an extraordinary stability of aap pili possibly represents an adaptation to harsh environments that S. acidocaldarius encounters.
The ability of microorganisms to sense and respond to sudden changes in their environment is often based on regulatory systems comprising reversible protein phosphorylation. The archaellum (former: archaeal flagellum) is used for motility in Archaea and therefore functionally analogous to the bacterial flagellum. In contrast with archaellum-mediated movement in certain members of the Euryarchaeota, this process, including its regulation, remains poorly studied in crenarchaeal organisms like Sulfolobus species. Recently, it was shown in Sulfolobus acidocaldarius, that tryptone limiting conditions led to the induction of archaella expression and assembly (Lassak et al., 2012). Here we have identified two proteins, the FHA domain-containing protein ArnA and the vWA domain-containing protein ArnB that are involved in regulating archaella expression in S. acidocaldarius. Both proteins are phosphorylated by protein kinases in vitro and interact strongly in vivo. Phenotypic analyses revealed that these two proteins are repressors of archaella expression. These results represent the first step in understanding the networks that underlie regulation of cellular motility in Crenarchaeota and emphasize the importance of protein phosphorylation in the regulation of cellular processes in the Archaea.
Certain heavy metal ions such as copper and zinc serve as essential cofactors of many enzymes, but are toxic at high concentrations. Thus, intracellular levels have to be subtly balanced. P-type ATPases of the P1B-subclass play a major role in metal homeostasis. The thermoacidophile Sulfolobus solfataricus possesses two P1B-ATPases named CopA and CopB. Both enzymes are present in cells grown in copper-depleted medium and are accumulated upon increase of the external copper concentration. We studied the physiological roles of both ATPases by disrupting genes copA and copB. Neither of them affected the sensitivity of S. solfataricus to reactive oxygen species, nor was a strict prerequisite to the biosynthesis of the copper protein cytochrome oxidase. Deletion mutant analysis demonstrated that CopA is an effective copper pump at low and high copper concentrations. CopB appeared to be a low affinity copper export ATPase becoming relevant only if the media copper concentration is exceedingly high. CopA and CopB thus act as resistance factors to copper ions at overlapping concentrations. Moreover, growth tests on solid media indicated both ATPases also being involved in resistance to silver.
The prokaryotic clusters of regularly interspaced palindromic repeats (CRISPR) system utilizes genomically encoded CRISPR RNA (crRNA), derived from invading viruses and incorporated into ribonucleoprotein complexes with CRISPR-associated (CAS) proteins, to target and degrade viral DNA or RNA on subsequent infection. RNA is targeted by the CMR complex. In Sulfolobus solfataricus, this complex is composed of seven CAS protein subunits (Cmr1-7) and carries a diverse "payload" of targeting crRNA. The crystal structure of Cmr7 and low-resolution structure of the complex are presented. S. solfataricus CMR cleaves RNA targets in an endonucleolytic reaction at UA dinucleotides. This activity is dependent on the 8 nt repeat-derived 5' sequence in the crRNA, but not on the presence of a protospacer-associated motif (PAM) in the target. Both target and guide RNAs can be cleaved, although a single molecule of guide RNA can support the degradation of multiple targets.
The ability to move towards favourable conditions provides fundamental advantages to organisms. Interestingly, flagella as motility structures evolved independently in the bacterial and the archaeal kingdom. Whereas bacterial flagella have been intensively studied, our knowledge regarding the archaeal counterpart is mostly restricted to Euryarchaeota rather than crenarchaeal flagella. We therefore investigated the flagellar assembly system of the crenarchaeal model organism Sulfolobus acidocaldarius in vivo. Promoter studies and qRT-PCR analyses of the flagella gene cluster provided evidence that the expression of the fla genes was induced by tryptone starvation. Moreover, we confirmed presence of a secondary fla promoter within the flaB gene that regulates the transcription of downstream genes flaX-J. Markerless in-frame deletions for all fla genes encoded in the fla gene cluster were constructed. Western blot analysis of all fla deletion strains suggested hierarchical protein interactions during the archaeal flagella assembly. Moreover, functional analysis by thermomicroscopy revealed non-motile cells for each of the mutant strains. Electron micrographs demonstrated that lack of motility coincided with the loss of flagellar assembly. Thus we demonstrated that all seven fla genes are essential for crenarchaeal flagellum assembly and function.