HR (homologous recombination) is expected to play important roles in the molecular biology and genetics of archaea, but, so far, few functional properties of archaeal HR have been measured in vivo. In the extreme thermoacidophile Sulfolobus acidocaldarius, a conjugational mechanism of DNA transfer enables quantitative analysis of HR between chromosomal markers. Early studies of this system indicated that HR occurred frequently between closely spaced mutations within the pyrE gene, and this result was later supported by various analyses involving defined point mutations and deletions. These properties of intragenic HR suggested a non-reciprocal mechanism in which donor sequences become incorporated into the recipient genome as short segments. Because fragmentation of donor DNA during cell-to-cell transfer could not be excluded from contributing to this result, subsequent analyses have focused on electroporation of selectable donor DNA directly into recipient strains. For example, S. acidocaldarius was found to incorporate synthetic ssDNA (single-stranded DNA) of more than ∼20 nt readily into its genome. With respect to various molecular properties of the ssDNA substrates, the process resembled bacteriophage λRed-mediated ‘recombineering’ in Escherichia coli. Another approach used electroporation of a multiply marked pyrE gene to measure donor sequence tracts transferred to the recipient genome in individual recombination events. Initial results indicate multiple discontinuous tracts in the majority of recombinants, representing a relatively broad distribution of tract lengths. This pattern suggests that properties of the HR process could, in principle, account for many of the apparent peculiarities of intragenic recombination initiated by S. acidocaldarius conjugation.

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