archaea [är kē′ə]

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      unicellular organisms that are prokaryotic (that is, do not have a membrane-bound nucleus and other internal units) but that differ in certain physiological and genetic features from bacteria, the most prominent prokaryotes. Archaea have some features in common with bacteria as well as eukaryotes (organisms whose cells contain nuclear membranes), but evidence suggests that archaea are more closely related to eukaryotes than to bacteria.

      The archaea are aquatic or terrestrial microorganisms that exhibit a diversity of shapes, including spherical, rod-shaped, and spiral forms. Archaea lack murein and ester-linked lipids in the cell walls, which is characteristic of bacteria; instead, they have ether lipids, as well as a number of different cell-wall constituents. Archaea also differ from bacteria in the structure of their ribosomal RNAs, which are used in genetic testing to assess the degree of genetic relatedness among different species. The archaea reproduce using a wide variety of mechanisms, including binary and multiple fission, budding, and fragmentation.

      Archaea survive in a number of extreme environments, including very hot or saline ones. Archaea may be aerobic, anaerobic, or facultatively anaerobic in their metabolic requirements. Some archaea, such as Halobacterium, require a highly saline environment. Others, such as Methanobacterium, produce methane (CH4) as an end product, while still others are dependent on sulfur for their metabolism. The latter group are among the most thermophilic of the archaea, surviving in temperatures higher than 45 to 50 °C (113 to 122 °F). Still other archaea are found in oceanic thermal vents, growing at temperatures higher than 95 °C (203 °F).

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Universalium. 2010.

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