How can archaea cope with extreme acidity?


Archaea are the most extremophilic of the acidophilic microbes, combining, in many cases, acidophilicity with hyperthermophilicity. They form one of the three branches of the phylogenetic tree, and they are specifically found within the so-called crenarchaeota, typical members of which thrive at pH 1-3 and at temperatures of 75 degrees C to nearly 100 degrees C. Despite this, these cells can maintain a near neutral cytosol, and they use H+ for chemiosmotic coupling of ADP phosphorylation. These phenomena require efficient exclusion and disposal of protons. This is achieved by multiple synergistic mechanisms that act in parallel. One strategy is to use bipolar tetraether lipids as a matrix of their plasma membranes, providing low ion permeabilities, even at high temperatures. Additionally, an inverted membrane potential can help to balance a large pH gradient of up to 4 at a proton motive force of delta p = 140-180 mV. This is not a general rule, because in several species the membrane potential contributes only minimally. Also, local buffering capacity and charge profiles across the membrane may significantly influence adaptation to bulk phase acidity. Neither complex I nor complex III electron transport-coupled proton pump equivalents have been found in aerobic archaea. Only terminal oxidases seem to provide either H+ pumping or the generation of a proton gradient by chemical charge separation. Organization, redox centres and primary structures of some archaeal terminal quinol oxidase complexes are known and will be discussed. Much less is known about anaerobic sulfur reducers. For those a possible mechanism for proton exclusion is proposed.

Cite this paper

@article{Schaefer1999HowCA, title={How can archaea cope with extreme acidity?}, author={G . Schaefer}, journal={Novartis Foundation symposium}, year={1999}, volume={221}, pages={131-44; discussion 145-51} }