Archaeal habitats--from the extreme to the ordinary

Can J Microbiol. 2006 Feb;52(2):73-116. doi: 10.1139/w05-147.


The domain Archaea represents a third line of evolutionary descent, separate from Bacteria and Eucarya. Initial studies seemed to limit archaea to various extreme environments. These included habitats at the extreme limits that allow life on earth, in terms of temperature, pH, salinity, and anaerobiosis, which were the homes to hyper thermo philes, extreme (thermo)acidophiles, extreme halophiles, and methanogens. Typical environments from which pure cultures of archaeal species have been isolated include hot springs, hydrothermal vents, solfataras, salt lakes, soda lakes, sewage digesters, and the rumen. Within the past two decades, the use of molecular techniques, including PCR-based amplification of 16S rRNA genes, has allowed a culture-independent assessment of microbial diversity. Remarkably, such techniques have indicated a wide distribution of mostly uncultured archaea in normal habitats, such as ocean waters, lake waters, and soil. This review discusses organisms from the domain Archaea in the context of the environments where they have been isolated or detected. For organizational purposes, the domain has been separated into the traditional groups of methanogens, extreme halophiles, thermoacidophiles, and hyperthermophiles, as well as the uncultured archaea detected by molecular means. Where possible, we have correlated known energy-yielding reactions and carbon sources of the archaeal types with available data on potential carbon sources and electron donors and acceptors present in the environments. From the broad distribution, metabolic diversity, and sheer numbers of archaea in environments from the extreme to the ordinary, the roles that the Archaea play in the ecosystems have been grossly underestimated and are worthy of much greater scrutiny.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Archaea / classification*
  • Archaea / isolation & purification
  • Archaea / physiology
  • Ecosystem
  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • RNA, Archaeal / analysis
  • RNA, Archaeal / classification
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / classification*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics


  • RNA, Archaeal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S