Microbiology Editor’s Choice: the impact of growth media on archaea morphology

Posted on March 2, 2021   by Microbiology Society

Each month, a manuscript published in our flagship journal Microbiology  is chosen by a member of the Editorial Board. This month, the paper is titled ‘Improved growth and morphological plasticity of Haloferax volcanii’ and was chosen by Professor Tracy Palmer.

Archaea are structurally diverse organisms that can exhibit an unusual array of cell shapes. The mechanisms underlying cell shape determination in these prokaryotes are relatively poorly understood. The model haloarchaeon, Haloferax volcanii, is pleomorphic and can display both discoid and rod cell morphologies in liquid culture. However, the growth conditions that favour these distinct cell shapes are not well understood. To probe this further, de Silva and colleagues sought to define media supplements that could improve culture and cell shape reproducibility. The authors identified a cocktail of eight micronutrients that result in consistent and reproducible cell morphologies. This important finding will support further studies to dissect the mechanisms of morphological development in archaea.

Improved growth and morphological plasticity of Haloferax volcanii

Microbes can change morphology in response to their environment. We found that micronutrient starvation or dilution of cells in culture induce distinct morphological responses in Haloferax volcanii, a model species of archaea. The shape changes involved cell elongation and required the cell structural protein, CetZ1, which is related to both the eukaryotic tubulin cytoskeleton and the bacterial cell division protein FtsZ. The results should facilitate new studies of archaeal cell biology, and the improved culture media described in the paper would enable greater consistency of results between laboratories and improve the industrial potential of H. volcanii.

We spoke with corresponding author Dr Iain Duggin to find out more: 

What is your institution and how long have you been there?  

I am based at iThree institute, University of Technology Sydney and have been for nine years. 

What is your research area?   

Archaeal morphology and division 

What inspired you to research this topic?   

Mentors, lucky opportunities and discoveries, and the excitement of starting a new research area 

What is the most rewarding part of your research?  

Being part of the discovery journeys of students and colleagues 

What would you be doing if you weren't a scientist?  

I don’t know! Building or growing things. 

Follow Iain and colleagues Roshali De SilvaHannah Brown and Mechthild Pohlschroder on Twitter.