The tubulin superfamily of cytoskeletal proteins is widespread in all three domains of life — Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya. Tubulins build the microtubules of the eukaryotic cytoskeleton, whereas members of the homologous FtsZ family construct the division ring in prokaryotes and some eukaryotic organelles. Their functions are relatively poorly understood in archaea, yet these microbes contain a remarkable diversity of tubulin superfamily proteins, including FtsZ for division, a newly described major family called CetZ that is involved in archaeal cell shape control, and several other divergent families of unclear function that are implicated in a variety of cell envelope-remodelling contexts. Archaeal model organisms, particularly halophilic archaea such as Haloferax volcanii, have sufficiently developed genetic tools and we show why their large, flattened cells that are capable of controlled differentiation are also well suited to cell biological investigations by live-cell high-resolution light and electron microscopy. As most archaea only have a glycoprotein lattice S-layer, rather than a peptidoglycan cell wall like bacteria, the activity of the tubulin-like cytoskeletal proteins at the cell envelope is expected to vary significantly, and may involve direct membrane remodelling or directed synthesis or insertion of the S-layer protein subunits. Further studies of archaeal cell biology will provide fresh insight into the evolution of cells and the principles in common to their fundamental activities across the full spectrum of cellular life.

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