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Major players on the microbial stage: why Archaea are important

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JournalMicrobiology (Reading, England)
DatePublished - Apr 2011
Issue numberPt 4
Volume157
Number of pages18
Pages (from-to)919-936
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

As microbiology undergoes a renaissance fueled in part by developments in new sequencing technologies, the massive diversity and abundance of microbes becomes yet more obvious. The archaea have traditionally been perceived as a minor group of organisms forced to evolve into environmental niches not occupied by their more "successful" and "vigorous" counterparts, the bacteria. Here we outline some of the evidence gathered by an increasingly large and productive group of scientists that demonstrates not only that the archaea contribute significantly to global nutrient cycling, but also that they compete successfully in "mainstream" environments. Recent data suggest that the archaea provide the major routes for ammonia oxidation in the environment. Archaea also have huge economic potential that to date has only been fully realized in the production of thermostable polymerases. Archaea have furnished us with key paradigms for understanding fundamentally conserved processes across all domains of life. In addition, they have provided numerous exemplars of novel biological mechanisms that provide us with a much broader view of the forms that life can take and the way in which microorganisms can interact with other species. That this information has been garnered in a relatively short period of time, and appears to represent only a small proportion of what the archaea have to offer, should provide further incentives to microbiologists to investigate the underlying biology of this fascinating domain.

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