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Falb, Michaela (2005): Computational Genome and Pathway Analysis of Halophilic Archaea. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy
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Abstract

Halophilic archaea inhabit hypersaline environments and share common physiological features such as acidic protein machineries in order to adapt to high internal salt concentrations as well as electron transport chains for oxidative respiration. Surprisingly, nutritional demands were found to differ considerably amongst haloarchaeal species, though, and in this project several complete genomes of halophilic archaea were analysed to predict their metabolic capabilities. Comparative analysis of gene equipments showed that haloarchaea adopted several strategies to utilize abundant cell material available in brines such as the acquisition of catabolic enzymes, secretion of hydrolytic enzymes, and elimination of biosynthesis gene clusters. For example, metabolic genes of the well-studied Halobacterium salinarum were found to be consistent with the known degradation of glycerol and amino acids. Further, the complex requirement of H. salinarum for various amino acids and vitamins in comparison with other halophiles was explained by the lack of several genes and gene clusters, e.g. for the biosynthesis of methionine, lysine, and thiamine. Nitrogen metabolism varied also among halophilic archaea, and the haloalkaliphile Natronomonas pharaonis was predicted to apply several modes of N-assimilation to cope with severe ammonium deficiencies in its highly alkaline habitat. This species was experimentally shown to possess a functional respiratory chain, but comparative analysis with several archaea suggests a yet unknown complex III analogue in N. pharaonis. Respiratory chains of halophilic and other respiratory archaea were found to share similar genes for pre-quinone electron transfer steps but show great diversity in post-quinone electron transfer steps indicating adaptation to changing environmental conditions in extreme habitats. Finally, secretomes of halophilic and non-halophilic archaea were predicted proposing that haloarchaea secretion proteins are predominantly exported via the twin-arginine pathway and commonly exhibit a lipobox motif for N-terminal lipid anchoring. In N. pharaonis, lipoboxcontaining proteins were most frequent suggesting that lipid anchoring might prevent protein extraction under alkaline conditions. By contrast, non-halophilic archaea seem to prefer the general secretion pathway for protein translocation and to retain only few secretion proteins by N-terminal lipid anchors. Membrane attachment was preferentially observed for interacting components of ABC transporters and respiratory chains and might further occur via postulated C-terminal anchors in archaea. Within this project, the complete genome of the newly sequenced N. pharaonis was analysed with focus on curation of automatically generated data in order to retrieve reliable gene prediction and protein function assignment results as a basis for additional studies. Through the development of a post-processing routine and expert validation as well as by integration of proteomics data, a highly reliable gene set was created for N. pharaonis which was subsequently used to assess various microbial gene finders. This showed that all automatic gene tools predicted a rather correct gene set for the GC-rich N. pharaonis genome but produced insufficient results in respect to their start codon assignments. Available proteomics results for N. pharaonis and H. salinarum were further analysed for posttranslational modifications, and N-terminal peptides of haloarchaeal proteins were found to be commonly processed by N-terminal methionine cleavage and to some extent further modified by N-acetylation. For general function assignment of predicted N. pharaonis proteins and for enzyme assignment in H. salinarum, similarity-based searches, genecontext methods such as neighbourhood analysis but also manual curation were applied in order to reduce the number of hypothetical proteins and to avoid cross-species transfer of misassigned functions. This permitted to reliably reconstruct the metabolism of H. salinarum and N. pharaonis. Generated metabolic data were stored in a newly developed metabolic database that also integrates experimental data retrieved from the literature. The pathway data can be assessed as coloured KEGG maps and were combined with data resulting from transcriptomics and proteomics techniques. In future, expert-curated reaction entries of the created metabolic database will be a valuable source for the design of metabolic experiments and will deliver a reliable input for metabolic models of halophilic archaea.