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Thermoplasma acidophilum
Living the hot, acidic life
By Bijal P. Trivedi

The genome of Thermoplasma acidophilum, a microbe that makes its home in an environment similar in temperature and acidity to hot vinegar, has been sequenced.

T. acidophilum caught the attention of researchers because it lives in a particularly harsh environment—hot and acidic—without the protection of a rigid cell wall which is used by other microbes living in similar environments. The microbe was also thought to be an ancestor of the modern eukaryotic cell, but upon examination of the genome the idea proved unfounded.

T. acidophilum, at 1,564,905 base pairs, is one of the smallest microbial genomes ever sequenced. The genome is a single circular chromosome and was sequenced using a new strategy called "shotgun primer walking", that is a fusion of the shotgun sequencing and the primer walking techniques. "This new method is a significant improvement over current sequencing strategies—it is faster and cheaper," says Don Cohen of University College London.

One of the most exciting aspects gleaned from studying the genome of T. acidophilum are the large chunks of DNA which have been borrowed from other species of microbe and incorporated into the chromosome. The genes are believed to come from microbes and bacteria that share the same environmental niches, like the soil near hydrothermal sites.

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Ruepp, A. et al. The genome sequence of the thermoacidophilic scavenger Thermoplasma acidophilum. Nature 407, 508-513 (September 28, 2000).

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