Archaea, members of the third domain of life, are bacterial-looking prokaryotes that harbour many unique genotypic and phenotypic properties, testifying for their peculiar evolutionary status. The archaeal ancestor was probably a hyperthermophilic anaerobe. Two archaeal phyla are presently recognized, the Euryarchaeota and the Crenarchaeota. Methanogenesis was the main invention that occurred in the euryarchaeal phylum and is now shared by several archaeal groups. Adaptation to aerobic conditions occurred several times independently in both Euryarchaeota and Crenarchaeota. Recently, many new groups of Archaea that have not yet been cultured have been detected by PCR amplification of 16S ribosomal RNA from environmental samples. The phenotypic and genotypic characterization of these new groups is now a top priority for further studies on archaeal evolution.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science (USA)