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Life at very high temperatures
The genome of Sulfolobus solfataricus is sequenced
By Birgit Hofmann-Reinert

Researchers from Canada, the U.S. and Europe have sequenced the genome of Sulfolobus solfataricus P2, a widely studied microorganism that tolerates extreme temperatures. Thermophiles, single-celled organisms that belong to the group of archaea, grow optimally at 80°C and can be found in sulfur-rich, acidic environments. The sequenced P2 strain was isolated from a sulfur hot spring near Naples, Italy.

The red of these rocks is produced by Sulfolobus solfataricus, near Naples, Italy.

The Sulfolobus genome contains a single chromosome of about 2.99 million base pairs. The researchers identified 3,032 genes and 52 major gene families, and they report that a third of the 3,000 encoded proteins have no known counterparts in other sequenced genomes. "The data reveal a high proportion of archaea-specific genes and reinforce the major differences between archaea, and bacteria and eukarya," the researchers write in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sulfolobus has been a model organism for investigating DNA replication, the cell cycle, chromosomal integration, transcription, RNA processing, and translation. Archaea survive on sulfur, hydrogen, and other materials that cannot be metabolized by animals, plants, and bacteria.

Laboratories worldwide are investigating the biology of these life forms to understand what confers their extreme resistance to acid and heat. The findings may have potential applications for a variety of industries, such as space exploration. "The emerging genome sequence has been exploited extensively," the researchers write.

A map of the Sulfolobus genome can be viewed at Laboratoire de Biologie Moléculaire du Gène chez les Extrêmophiles (LBMGE), Orsay, France.

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She, Q. et al. The complete genome of the crenarchaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus P2. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98, 7835-7840 (July 3, 2001).

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