With the unquenchable thirst for knowledge, biologists around the world were endeavored to understand and classify the living beings on Earth hence divided the visible species into plants and animals. In the later years, extremely insignificant organisms, transparent to the naked eye, were suspected to share space with us. The wonders of microscopes proved their existence extending the classification to accommodate miniscule living organisms like bacteria, fungi etc.
Dr. Carl Woese and his colleagues at the University of Illinois were taken to the end of their seats with the discovery of organisms with a differential genetical makeup, previously thought to be bacteria. He later proposed to subdivide the group into archaea and eubacteria.
One of the most interesting features of the archaea kingdom is their indistinguishable nature. While classification, this set of puzzle seem to fit into both the prokaryotic division due to their structure and also into the eukaryotic class owing to their genetical makeup.
Archaeans are one micron in length ranging to about one thousandth of a millimeter. Thanks to the discovery of electron microscopy as even a high powered light microscope could magnify even large archaeans only to a speck. They were also associated with multitudes of shapes along with variations in the presence of flagella for their movement.
These organisms derive their energy from multiple sources like sunlight, inorganic and organic compounds. Even while utilizing sunlight, oxygen generating photosynthesis fails to occur in them.
The archaeans were populated and multiplied with the same genetic material by the process of binary fission, where one parent cell divides itself into two daughter cells with the integration of the genetic material within both the cells individually.
The unique chain of chemical tricks starring within this kingdom enables them to thrive under extreme conditions. Of which some were found to withstand high saline, acidic or alkaline aquatic environments. Whereas the others lived even at temperatures above the boiling point at 100° Celsius or 212 F. Some were even found to be resistant to pressures above 200 atmospheres hiding deep into the layers of the Earth.
Achaeans live in clusters; ooze out most methane gas into the atmosphere claiming themselves as methanogens. These methanogens contribute to most of the world’s methane content, becoming the triggering culprits of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming inspite of our efforts to diffuse the emission.
These are organisms with a blessing in disguise as they aid in the proper functioning of the ecosystem as well recycle the elements such as carbon, nitrogen and sulfur balancing the geochemical cycle and comprise an estimated 20 percent of the world’s biomass.
We only know that the chemical prints of archaea have established themselves in the recent years. In contrast, their respective patches were reported to exist since when the Earth was just an infant trying to support life. This was discovered first from the Messel oil shale of Germany, a stunning site of rich geologic history of fossil records.
The presence of enzymes within these extremophiles significantly revolutionized the field of molecular biology by application to clone DNA. In industry their enzymes work over high temperature conditions allowing food processing.Sewage treatment was accomplished by these microorganisms with their ability to anaerobically digest and produce biogas. They prepare themselves to offer us with the extraction of metals from ores including gold, cobalt and copper. They are also expected to open the doors to a host of potentially useful antibiotics.