An article published in the journal “Nature Communications” describes the discovery of a microorganism called Nanopusillus acidilobi in an acidic hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, in the USA, along with a host organism belonging to the genus Acidilobus. Both bodies are archaea, which means that they belong to a domain other than that of plants, animals and any other eukaryote.
Archaea, or archaebacteria, are single-celled organisms lacking a nucleus in may ways still little-known. Nanopusillus acidilobi has been classified as part of the phylum Nanoarchaeota, which includes tiny microorganisms that typically are parasites or symbionts.
In the case of Nanopusillus acidilobi, the microorganism developed a mechanism for capturing molecules from its host’s cell through a cell-to-cell contact. To examine this type of symbiosis it was necessary to collect microbes of both species, a task not easy because they live in acidic hot springs. We’re talking about really hot springs, with almost boiling water, rather extreme conditions.
Mircea Podar of the Biosciences Division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) led a team that managed to isolate these archaea. Nanopusillus acidilobi has a length ranging from 100 to 300 nanometers making the operation more complex. The researchers did it getting the chance to have those microorganisms reproduce to examine their symbiosis in action.
This types of research can give important results for both our understanding of archaea or at least those belonging to the phylum Nanoarchaeota and the possible discovery of biological mechanisms. Today biotechnology development relies heavily on the use of mechanisms developed in nature. Typically research concern bacteria but archaea could offer something new.
The exam of Nanopusillus acidilobi revealed the similarities with a distant relative already examined in the past decade, Nanoarchaeum equitans, which lives in symbiosis with another archaebacterium called Ignicoccus hospitalis. That’s a couple of symbionts in some ways similar to Nanopusillus acidilobi and Acidilobus.
One of the goals of this type of research is to understand the origin of the phylum Nanoarchaeota’s microorganisms. They have a reduced genetic code and protein sequences in rapid evolution, characteristics that make it difficult to understand their relation with other archaea. Each new discovery may help us understand a little more about this domain of life but despite the progress of genetic research it will take a long time to have a knowledge of archaea comparable to that of plants and animals.