Archaea is the third domain of life, discovered only thirty years ago. In a microscope archaea appear indistinguishable from bacteria, but they have been shown to be more closely related to eukaryotes than to bacteria. Especially central information processing is homologous to that of eukaryotes. The archaea, previously thought to be limited to extreme environments, constitute a large part of life on Earth to an extent that has only begun to be understood. Despite their abundance little is known about several central cell-cycle features, such as cell division and genome segregation.
For this thesis, a comprehensive study of the cell cycle in the model archaeon Sulfolobus acidocaldarius was performed, describing the majority of its cell-cycle regulated genes. Several known DNA replication genes, as well as genes previously not known to have a role in the cell cycle, displayed cyclic transcription. Several transcription factors, kinases and DNA sequence elements were identified as cell-cycle regulatory elements. Among the most important findings were putative cell division and genome segregation machineries.
Sulfolobus species were discovered to have three origins of replication, constituting the first known prokaryotes with multiple origins. All origins initiate replication in a synchronous manner. Cdc6 proteins were shown to bind to origin recognition boxes conserved across the Archaea domain. Two Cdc6 proteins function as replication initiators, while a third paralog is implicated as a negative factor. Replication was shown to proceed at a rate similar to that of eukaryotes.
A particular type of cell cycle organization was found to be unusually conserved in the Crenachaeota phylum. All the studied species displayed a short prereplicative phase and a long postreplicative phase, and cycle between one and two genome copies. Genome sizes were determined for several species. The euryarchaeon Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus was also studied, and it was shown to initiate genome segregation during, or just after, replication. In contrast to the crenarchaea it never displayed a single genome copy per cell.