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Bioessays. 2003 Nov;25(11):1119-28.

Pathogenic archaea: do they exist?

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School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


Archaea are microorganisms that are distinct from bacteria and eukaryotes. They are prevalent in extreme environments, and yet found in most ecosystems. They are a natural component of the microbiota of most, if not all, humans and other animals. Despite their ubiquity and close association with humans, animals and plants, no pathogenic archaea have been identified. Because no archaeal pathogens have yet been identified, there is a general assumption that archaeal pathogens do not exist. This review examines whether this is a good assumption by investigating the potential for archaea to be or become pathogens. This is achieved by addressing: the diversity of archaea versus known pathogens, opportunities for archaea to demonstrate pathogenicity and be detected as pathogens, reports linking archaea with disease, and immune responses to archaea. In addition, molecular and genomic data are examined for the presence of systems utilised in pathogenesis. The view of this report is that, although archaea can presently be described as non-pathogenic, they have the potential to be (discovered as) pathogens. The present optimistic view that there are no archaeal pathogens is tainted by a severe lack of relevant knowledge, which may have important consequences in the future.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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