Oct 07


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Curr Biol. 2015 Oct 5;25(19):R851-5

Authors: Eme L, Doolittle WF

A headline on the front page of the New York Times for November 3, 1977, read “Scientists Discover a Way of Life That Predates Higher Organisms”. The accompanying article described a spectacular claim by Carl Woese and George Fox to have discovered a third form of life, a new ‘domain’ that we now call Archaea. It’s not that these microbes were unknown before, nor was it the case that their peculiarities had gone completely unnoticed. Indeed, Ralph Wolfe, in the same department at the University of Illinois as Woese, had already discovered how it was that methanogens (uniquely on the planet) make methane, and the bizarre adaptations that allow extremely halophilic archaea (then called halobacteria) and thermoacidophiles to live in the extreme environments where they do were already under investigation in many labs. But what Woese and Fox had found was that these organisms were related to each other not just in their ‘extremophily’ but also phylogenetically. And, most surprisingly, they were only remotely related to the rest of the prokaryotes, which we now call the domain Bacteria (Figure 1).

PMID: 26439345 [PubMed – in process]