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Vol. 18, No. 5, 2014, Pages: 825-834

Taxonomy of halophilic Archaea: current status and future challenges

Aharon Oren


Several groups of Archaea, all Euryarchaeota, develop in hypersaline environments (from >10 % salt up to saturation). The cultured diversity of halophilic Archaea includes the family Halobacteriaceae of aerobic or facultative anaerobic, generally red-pigmented species (47 genera and 165 species as of February 2014) and seven representatives of four genera of methanogens, most of which obtain energy from methylated amines under anaerobic conditions. Metagenomic studies have identified an additional deep lineage of Archaea in salt lakes and ponds with brines approaching NaCl saturation. Genomic information is now available for representatives of these ‘Nanohaloarchaea’, but no members of this lineage have yet been cultured. Multilocus sequence analysis is becoming increasingly popular in taxonomic studies of the Halobacteriaceae, and such studies have demonstrated that recombination of genetic traits occurs at an extremely high frequency at least in some genera. Metagenomic studies in an Antarctic lake showed that large identical regions of up to 35 kb in length can be shared by members of different genera living together in the same environment. Such observations have important implications not only for the taxonomy of the Halobacteriaceae, but also for species concepts and questions on taxonomy and classification for prokaryotic microorganisms in general.


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