Positioning of the Motility Machinery in Halophilic Archaea

mBio. 2019 May 7;10(3):e00377-19. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00377-19.


Bacteria and archaea exhibit tactical behavior and can move up and down chemical gradients. This tactical behavior relies on a motility structure, which is guided by a chemosensory system. Environmental signals are sensed by membrane-inserted chemosensory receptors that are organized in large ordered arrays. While the cellular positioning of the chemotaxis machinery and that of the flagellum have been studied in detail in bacteria, we have little knowledge about the localization of such macromolecular assemblies in archaea. Although the archaeal motility structure, the archaellum, is fundamentally different from the flagellum, archaea have received the chemosensory machinery from bacteria and have connected this system with the archaellum. Here, we applied a combination of time-lapse imaging and fluorescence and electron microscopy using the model euryarchaeon Haloferax volcanii and found that archaella were specifically present at the cell poles of actively dividing rod-shaped cells. The chemosensory arrays also had a polar preference, but in addition, several smaller arrays moved freely in the lateral membranes. In the stationary phase, rod-shaped cells became round and chemosensory arrays were disassembled. The positioning of archaella and that of chemosensory arrays are not interdependent and likely require an independent form of positioning machinery. This work showed that, in the rod-shaped haloarchaeal cells, the positioning of the archaellum and of the chemosensory arrays is regulated in time and in space. These insights into the cellular organization of H. volcanii suggest the presence of an active mechanism responsible for the positioning of macromolecular protein complexes in archaea.IMPORTANCE Archaea are ubiquitous single cellular microorganisms that play important ecological roles in nature. The intracellular organization of archaeal cells is among the unresolved mysteries of archaeal biology. With this work, we show that cells of haloarchaea are polarized. The cellular positioning of proteins involved in chemotaxis and motility is spatially and temporally organized in these cells. This suggests the presence of a specific mechanism responsible for the positioning of macromolecular protein complexes in archaea.

Keywords: archaea; archaellum; cell polarity; chemotaxis; motility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Archaeal Proteins / chemistry*
  • Cell Polarity*
  • Chemotaxis*
  • Cytoplasm / chemistry
  • Flagella / physiology
  • Haloferax volcanii / physiology*
  • Haloferax volcanii / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Time-Lapse Imaging


  • Archaeal Proteins