Archaea ‘join the conversation’ – Communication in the Third Domain

Communication in the microbial environment often occurs over microspatial distances utilising small signal molecules to facilitate changes in the community that confer a competitive advantage. While well characterised in bacteria, the process of signalling in archaea is not well understood. Given the growing significance of archaea in both natural and anthropogenic settings, it is important to delineate how widespread this phenomenon of signalling is in this domain of life and the impact on both organisms involved and the environment.

This project will examine this phenomenon in a range of archaea we have in culture, including those surviving extreme heat, salinity, and students will be exposed to a range of cutting-edge techniques. The exact nature of signalling molecules within archaea will be examined, employing analytical chemical techniques such as mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance. Phenotypic studies will be conducted that could reveal a range of control and regulation mechanisms for diverse phenotypes such as novel enzyme production that may be of industrial use. Global gene and proteomic approaches may also be employed to determine both phenotypic action and the biochemical basis of quorum sensing in archaea. Our group has acquired deep sequencing data as well as access to extensive databases on new and novel archaeal groups, and bioinformatic analyses can be conducted to elucidate unique signalling pathways in archaea. There are significant gaps in knowledge in the field of archaeal communication, with the exciting prospect of cross-domain talk that may be critical to ecosystem function. It is clear from the emerging directions in the field that archaea have well and truly ‘joined the conversation.

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