1 Functional Genomics, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet2 unknown3 Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet4 Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet5 Functional Genomics, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet
SUMMARY: Research on archaeal extrachromosomal genetic elements (ECEs) has progressed rapidly in the past decade. To date, over 60 archaeal viruses and 60 plasmids have been isolated. These archaeal viruses exhibit an exceptional diversity in morphology, with a wide array of shapes, such as spindles, rods, filaments, spheres, head-tails, bottles, and droplets, and some of these new viruses have been classified into one order, 10 families, and 16 genera. Investigation of model archaeal viruses has yielded important insights into mechanisms underlining various steps in the viral life cycle, including infection, DNA replication and transcription, and virion egression. Many of these mechanisms are unprecedented for any known bacterial or eukaryal viruses. Studies of plasmids isolated from different archaeal hosts have also revealed a striking diversity in gene content and innovation in replication strategies. Highly divergent replication proteins are identified in both viral and plasmid genomes. Genomic studies of archaeal ECEs have revealed a modular sequence structure in which modules of DNA sequence are exchangeable within, as well as among, plasmid families and probably also between viruses and plasmids. In particular, it has been suggested that ECE-host interactions have shaped the coevolution of ECEs and their archaeal hosts. Furthermore, archaeal hosts have developed defense systems, including the innate restriction-modification (R-M) system and the adaptive CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) system, to restrict invasive plasmids and viruses. Together, these interactions permit a delicate balance between ECEs and their hosts, which is vitally important for maintaining an innovative gene reservoir carried by ECEs. In conclusion, while research on archaeal ECEs has just started to unravel the molecular biology of these genetic entities and their interactions with archaeal hosts, it is expected to accelerate in the next decade.
Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 2015, Vol 79, Issue 1, p. 117-152