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Introduction to the Archaea Life's extremists. . . . Dr. Carl Woese U of Illinois DNA sequences.

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Introduction to the Archaea

Life's extremists. . .

  • Dr. Carl Woese
  • U of Illinois
  • DNA sequences

Finding Archaea : The hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, USA, were among the first places Archaea were discovered. At left is Octopus Spring, and at right is Obsidian Pool. Each pool has slightly different mineral content, temperature, salinity, etc., so different pools may contain different communities of archaeans and other microbes. The biologists pictured above are immersing microscope slides in the boiling pool onto which some archaeans might be captured for study.


Salt-lovers : immense bloom of a halophilic ("salt-loving") archaean species at a salt works near San Quentin, Baja California Norte, Mexico. This archaean, Halobacterium, also lives in enormous numbers in salt ponds at the south end of San Francisco


Different groups of Archaea:

  • Halophiles: extreme salt concentration
  • Thermophiles: extremely high temperature
  • Psychrophiles: extremely cold temperature
  • Alkalidophiles/Alkaliphiles: extreme basic condition
  • Acidophiles: extreme acidic condition
  • Methanogens: under the mud
  • Planktonic: open sea with planktons

Methanococcus jannischii was originally isolated from a sample taken from a "white smoker" chimney at an oceanic depth of 2,600 meters on the East Pacific Rise.


Halobacterium salinarium is an extreme halophile that grows at 4 to 5 M NaCl and does not grow below 3 M NaCl



Sulfolobus acidocaldarius (T.D. Brock)Sulfolobus is an extreme thermophile that has been found in geothermally-heated acid springs, mud pots and surface soils with temperatures from 60 to 95 degrees C, and a pH of 1 to 5


The copper-tolerant, acidophilic bacteria seen in this electron micrograph extract high concentrations of copper from sulfide minerals without being harmed



Not so inhospitable : It used to be unthinkable that life could exist at temperatures near boiling, but some archaeans thrive under these conditions. Geysers, like the one shown above, are home to such microbes and may help us understand how life existed when the Earth was young.


Bacteria: peptidoglycan cell wall

Archaea: isoprene cell wall

Plants: cellulosic cell wall

Fungi: chitinous cell wall


Bacteria: Fossil Record

The picture is a short chain of cyanobacterial cells from the Bitter Springs Chert of Northern Australia (about 1 billion years old).

Palaeolyngbya sp.

  • the Cyanobacteria or "blue-green algae“ (previous classification system) have left a fossil record that extends far back into the Precambrian (Stromatolites)
  • the oldest cyanobacteria-like fossils known are nearly 3.5 billion years old, among the oldest fossils currently known


-rock made of banded domes of sediment in which are

found the most ancient forms of life: prokaryotes dating back as far as 3.5 BYO



Aerobe vs. Anaerobe

  • 2. Facultative anaerobe
  • 3. Obligate aerobe and anaerobe

Bacterial Way of Life: Response to Gaseous Oxygen

Bacterial Way of Life: Mode of Reproduction

  • Asexual vs. Sexual
  • Asexual- Binary fission vs. Budding

Bacterial Way of Life: Number of Cells

  • Unicellular vs. Multicellular

Bacterial Way of Life: Ways of Obtaining Energy

  • Autotrophic vs. Heterotrophic
  • a. Chemoautotroph vs. Photoautotroph
  • b. Chemoheterotroph vs. Photoheterotroph

Bacterial Way of Life: Released Toxins & Adaptation

Endotoxins vs.Exotoxins vs. Endospore




benefits from prokaryotes
Benefits from Prokaryotes

Produce antibiotics such as streptomycin

Symbiont in animals (including humans), roots of certain plants (nitrogen fixation)

Yogurt, fermented milk, sourdough bread

A major decomposer