Cell structure changes in the hyperthermophilic crenarchaeon Sulfolobus islandicus lacking the S-layer

Changyi Zhang, Rebecca L. Wipfler, Yuan Li, Zhiyu Wang, Emily N. Hallett, Rachel J. Whitaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rediscovery of the ancient evolutionary relationship between archaea and eukaryotes has revitalized interest in archaeal cell biology. Key to the understanding of archaeal cells is the surface layer (S-layer), which is commonly found in Archaea but whose in vivo function is unknown. Here, we investigate the architecture and cellular roles of the S-layer in the hyperthermophilic crenarchaeon Sulfolobus islandicus. Electron micrographs of mutant cells lacking slaA or both slaA and slaB confirm the absence of the outermost layer (SlaA), whereas cells with intact or partially or completely detached SlaA are observed for the ΔslaB mutant. We experimentally identify a novel S-layer-associated protein, M164_1049, which does not functionally replace its homolog SlaB but likely assists SlaB to stabilize SlaA. Mutants deficient in the SlaA outer layer form large cell aggregates, and individual cell size varies, increasing significantly up to six times the diameter of wild-type cells. We show that the ΔslaA mutant cells exhibit more sensitivity to hyperosmotic stress but are not reduced to wild-type cell size. The ΔslaA mutant contains aberrant chromosome copy numbers not seen in wild-type cells, in which the cell cycle is tightly regulated. Together, these data suggest that the lack of SlaA results in either cell fusion or irregularities in cell division. Our studies show the key physiological and cellular functions of the S-layer in this archaeal cell.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01589-19
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019


  • Archaea
  • Cell structure
  • Sulfolobus islandicus
  • Surface layer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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