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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Mar 1, 1994; 91(5): 1609–1613.

Remarkable archaeal diversity detected in a Yellowstone National Park hot spring environment.


Of the three primary phylogenetic domains--Archaea (archaebacteria), Bacteria (eubacteria), and Eucarya (eukaryotes)--Archaea is the least understood in terms of its diversity, physiologies, and ecological panorama. Although many species of Crenarchaeota (one of the two recognized archaeal kingdoms sensu Woese [Woese, C. R., Kandler, O. & Wheelis, M. L. (1990) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 87, 4576-4579]) have been isolated, they constitute a relatively tight-knit cluster of lineages in phylogenetic analyses of rRNA sequences. It seemed possible that this limited diversity is merely apparent and reflects only a failure to culture organisms, not their absence. We report here phylogenetic characterization of many archaeal small subunit rRNA gene sequences obtained by polymerase chain reaction amplification of mixed population DNA extracted directly from sediment of a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. This approach obviates the need for cultivation to identify organisms. The analyses document the existence not only of species belonging to well-characterized crenarchaeal genera or families but also of crenarchaeal species for which no close relatives have so far been found. The large number of distinct archaeal sequence types retrieved from this single hot spring was unexpected and demonstrates that Crenarchaeota is a much more diverse group than was previously suspected. The results have impact on our concepts of the phylogenetic organization of Archaea.

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