Live bacteria and archaea have been isolated from several rock salt deposits of up to hundreds of millions of years of age from all around the world. A key factor affecting their longevity is the ability to keep their genomic DNA intact, for which efficient repair mechanisms are needed. Polyploid microbes are known to have an increased resistance towards mutations and DNA damage, and it has been suggested that microbes from deeply buried rock salt would carry several copies of their genomes. Here, cultivable halophilic microbes were isolated from a surface sterilized middle-late Eocene (38-41 million years ago) rock salt sample, drilled from the depth of 800 m at Yunying salt mine, China. Eight unique isolates were obtained, which represented two haloarchaeal genera, Halobacterium and Halolamina. We used real-time PCR to show that our isolates are polyploid, with genome copy numbers of 11-14 genomes per cell in exponential growth phase. The ploidy level was slightly downregulated in stationary growth phase, but the cells still had an average genome copy number of 6-8. The polyploidy of halophilic archaea living in ancient rock salt might be a factor explaining how these organisms are able to overcome the challenge of prolonged survival during their entombment.
The investigated haloarchaeal species, Halobacterium salinarum, Haloferax mediterranei, and H. volcanii, have all been shown to be polyploid. They contain several replicons that have independent copy number regulation, and most have a higher copy number during exponential growth phase than in stationary phase. The possible evolutionary advantages of polyploidy for haloarchaea, most of which have experimental support for at least one species, are discussed. These advantages include a low mutation rate and high resistance toward X-ray irradiation and desiccation, which depend on homologous recombination. For H. volcanii, it has been shown that gene conversion operates in the absence of selection, which leads to the equalization of genome copies. On the other hand, selective forces might lead to heterozygous cells, which have been verified in the laboratory. Additional advantages of polyploidy are survival over geological times in halite deposits as well as at extreme conditions on earth and at simulated Mars conditions. Recently, it was found that H. volcanii uses genomic DNA as genetic material and as a storage polymer for phosphate. In the absence of phosphate, H. volcanii dramatically decreases its genome copy number, thereby enabling cell multiplication, but diminishing the genetic advantages of polyploidy. Stable storage of phosphate is proposed as an alternative driving force for the emergence of DNA in early evolution. Several additional potential advantages of polyploidy are discussed that have not been addressed experimentally for haloarchaea. An outlook summarizes selected current trends and possible future developments.
Haloferax volcanii uses extracellular DNA as a source for carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous. However, it can also grow to a limited extend in the absence of added phosphorous, indicating that it contains an intracellular phosphate storage molecule. As Hfx. volcanii is polyploid, it was investigated whether DNA might be used as storage polymer, in addition to its role as genetic material. It could be verified that during phosphate starvation cells multiply by distributing as well as by degrading their chromosomes. In contrast, the number of ribosomes stayed constant, revealing that ribosomes are distributed to descendant cells, but not degraded. These results suggest that the phosphate of phosphate-containing biomolecules (other than DNA and RNA) originates from that stored in DNA, not in rRNA. Adding phosphate to chromosome depleted cells rapidly restores polyploidy. Quantification of desiccation survival of cells with different ploidy levels showed that under phosphate starvation Hfx. volcanii diminishes genetic advantages of polyploidy in favor of cell multiplication. The consequences of the usage of genomic DNA as phosphate storage polymer are discussed as well as the hypothesis that DNA might have initially evolved in evolution as a storage polymer, and the various genetic benefits evolved later.
A method to grow the halophilic archaeon Haloferax volcanii in microtiter plates has been optimized and now allows the parallel generation of very reproducible growth curves. The doubling time in a synthetic medium with glucose is around 6 h. The method was used to optimize glucose and casamino acid concentrations, to clarify carbon source usage and to analyze vitamin dependence. The characterization of osmotolerance revealed that after a lag phase of 24 h, H. volcanii is able to grow at salt concentrations as low as 0.7 M NaCl, much lower than the 1.4 M NaCl described as the lowest concentration until now. The application of oxidative stresses showed that H. volcanii exhibits a reaction to paraquat that is delayed by about 10 h. Surprisingly, only one of two amino acid auxotrophic mutants could be fully supplemented by the addition of the respective amino acid. Analysis of eight sRNA gene deletion mutants exemplified that the method can be applied for bona fide phenotyping of mutant collections. This method for the parallel analysis of many cultures contributes towards making H. volcanii an archaeal model species for functional genomic approaches.
Haloferax volcanii is highly polyploid and contains about 20 copies of the major chromosome. A heterozygous strain was constructed that contained two different types of genomes: the leuB locus contained either the wild-type leuB gene or a leuB:trpA gene introduced by gene replacement. As the trpA locus is devoid of the wild-type trpA gene, growth in the absence of both amino acids is only possible when both types of genomes are simultaneously present, exemplifying gene redundancy and the potential to form heterozygous cells as one possible evolutionary advantage of polyploidy. The heterozygous strain was grown (i) in the presence of tryptophan, selecting for the presence of leuB, (ii) in the presence of leucine selecting for leuB:trpA and (iii) in the absence of selection. Both types of genomes were quantified with real-time PCR. The first condition led to a complete loss of leuB:trpA-containing genomes, while under the second condition leuB-containing genomes were lost. Also in the absence of selection gene conversion led to a fast equalization of genomes and resulted in homozygous leuB-containing cells. Gene conversion leading to genome equalization can explain the escape from Mullers ratchet as well as the ease of mutant construction using polyploid haloarchaea.
Bacteria are generally assumed to be monoploid (haploid). This assumption is mainly based on generalization of the results obtained with the most intensely studied model bacterium, Escherichia coli (a gamma-proteobacterium), which is monoploid during very slow growth. However, several species of proteobacteria are oligo- or polyploid, respectively. To get a better overview of the distribution of ploidy levels, genome copy numbers were quantified in four species of three different groups of proteobacteria. A recently developed Real Time PCR approach, which had been used to determine the ploidy levels of halophilic archaea, was optimized for the quantification of genome copy numbers of bacteria. Slow-growing (doubling time 103 minutes) and fast-growing (doubling time 25 minutes) E. coli cultures were used as a positive control. The copy numbers of the origin and terminus region of the chromosome were determined and the results were in excellent agreement with published data. The approach was also used to determine the ploidy levels of Caulobacter crescentus (an alpha-proteobacterium) and Wolinella succinogenes (an epsilon-proteobacterium), both of which are monoploid. In contrast, Pseudomonas putida (a gamma-proteobacterium) contains 20 genome copies and is thus polyploid. A survey of the proteobacteria with experimentally-determined genome copy numbers revealed that only three to four of 11 species are monoploid and thus monoploidy is not typical for proteobacteria. The ploidy level is not conserved within the groups of proteobacteria, and there are no obvious correlations between the ploidy levels with other parameters like genome size, optimal growth temperature or mode of life.
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