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Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 1999 Sep;63(3):570-620.

Bioenergetics of the Archaea.

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Institut für Biochemie, Medizinische Universität zu Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany.


In the late 1970s, on the basis of rRNA phylogeny, Archaea (archaebacteria) was identified as a distinct domain of life besides Bacteria (eubacteria) and Eucarya. Though forming a separate domain, Archaea display an enormous diversity of lifestyles and metabolic capabilities. Many archaeal species are adapted to extreme environments with respect to salinity, temperatures around the boiling point of water, and/or extremely alkaline or acidic pH. This has posed the challenge of studying the molecular and mechanistic bases on which these organisms can cope with such adverse conditions. This review considers our cumulative knowledge on archaeal mechanisms of primary energy conservation, in relationship to those of bacteria and eucarya. Although the universal principle of chemiosmotic energy conservation also holds for Archaea, distinct features have been discovered with respect to novel ion-transducing, membrane-residing protein complexes and the use of novel cofactors in bioenergetics of methanogenesis. From aerobically respiring Archaea, unusual electron-transporting supercomplexes could be isolated and functionally resolved, and a proposal on the organization of archaeal electron transport chains has been presented. The unique functions of archaeal rhodopsins as sensory systems and as proton or chloride pumps have been elucidated on the basis of recent structural information on the atomic scale. Whereas components of methanogenesis and of phototrophic energy transduction in halobacteria appear to be unique to Archaea, respiratory complexes and the ATP synthase exhibit some chimeric features with respect to their evolutionary origin. Nevertheless, archaeal ATP synthases are to be considered distinct members of this family of secondary energy transducers. A major challenge to future investigations is the development of archaeal genetic transformation systems, in order to gain access to the regulation of bioenergetic systems and to overproducers of archaeal membrane proteins as a prerequisite for their crystallization.

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