Archaeal genome organization and stress responses: implications for the origin and evolution of cellular life

Astrobiology. 2002 Fall;2(3):241-53. doi: 10.1089/153110702762027835.


For DNA to be used as an informational molecule it must exist in the cell on the edge of stability because all genomic processes require local controlled melting. This presents mechanistic opportunities and problems for genomic DNA from hyperthermophilic organisms, whose unpackaged DNA could melt at optimal temperatures for growth. Hyperthermophiles are suggested to employ the novel positively supercoiling topoisomerase enzyme reverse gyrase (RG) to form positively supercoiled DNA that is intrinsically resistant to thermal denaturation. RG is presently the only archaeal gene that is uniquely found in hyperthermophiles and therefore is central to hypotheses suggesting a hypothermophilic origin of life. However, the suggestion that RG has evolved by the fusion of two pre-existing enzymes has led to hypotheses for a lower temperature for the origin of life. In addition to the action of topoisomerases, DNA packaging and the intracellular ionic environment can also manipulate DNA topology significantly. In the Euryarchaeota, nucleosomes containing minimal histones can adopt two alternate DNA topologies in a salt-dependent manner. From this we hypothesize that since internal salt concentrations are increased following an increase in temperature, the genomic effects of temperature fluctuations could also be accommodated by changes in nucleosome organization. In addition, stress-induced changes in the nucleoid proteins could also play a role in maintaining the genome in the optimal topological state in changing environments. The function of these systems could therefore be central to temperature adaptation and thus be implicated in origin of life scenarios involving hyperthermophiles.

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / cytology
  • Archaea / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Blotting, Northern
  • DNA Primers
  • Electrophoresis, Agar Gel
  • Genome, Archaeal*
  • Origin of Life*
  • RNA, Archaeal


  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Archaeal