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Syst Appl Microbiol. 1986;7:161-77.

Archaebacterial phylogeny: perspectives on the urkingdoms.

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Department of Genetics and Development, University of Illinois, Urbana 61801, USA.
U IL, Urbana


Comparisons of complete 16S ribosomal RNA sequences have been used to confirm, refine and extend earlier concepts of archaebacterial phylogeny. The archaebacteria fall naturally into two major branches or divisions, I--the sulfur-dependent thermophilic archaebacteria, and II--the methanogenic archaebacteria and their relatives. Division I comprises a relatively closely related and phenotypically homogeneous collection of thermophilic sulfur-dependent species--encompassing the genera Sulfolobus, Thermoproteus, Pyrodictium and Desulfurococcus. The organisms of Division II, however, form a less compact grouping phylogenetically, and are also more diverse in phenotype. All three of the (major) methanogen groups are found in Division II, as are the extreme halophiles and two types of thermoacidophiles, Thermoplasma acidophilum and Thermococcus celer. This last species branches sufficiently deeply in the Division II line that it might be considered to represent a separate, third Division. However, both the extreme halophiles and Tp. acidophilum branch within the cluster of methanogens. The extreme halophiles are specifically related to the Methanomicrobiales, to the exclusion of both the Methanococcales and the Methanobacteriales. Tp. acidophilum is peripherally related to the halophile-Methanomicrobiales group. By 16S rRNA sequence measure the archaebacteria constitute a phylogenetically coherent grouping (clade), which excludes both the eubacteria and the eukaryotes--a conclusion that is supported by other sequence evidence as well. Alternative proposals for archaebacterial phylogeny, not based upon sequence evidence, are discussed and evaluated. In particular, proposals to rename (reclassify) various subgroups of the archaebacteria as new kingdoms are found wanting, for both their lack of proper experimental support and the taxonomic confusion they introduce.

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