Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 33903726
Link to DOI – 10.1038/s41396-021-00984-0
ISME J 2021 10; 15(10): 2892-2905
Membrane-bound extracellular vesicles (EVs), secreted by cells from all three domains of life, transport various molecules and act as agents of intercellular communication in diverse environments. Here we demonstrate that EVs produced by a hyperthermophilic and acidophilic archaeon Sulfolobus islandicus carry not only a diverse proteome, enriched in membrane proteins, but also chromosomal and plasmid DNA, and can transfer this DNA to recipient cells. Furthermore, we show that EVs can support the heterotrophic growth of Sulfolobus in minimal medium, implicating EVs in carbon and nitrogen fluxes in extreme environments. Finally, our results indicate that, similar to eukaryotes, production of EVs in S. islandicus depends on the archaeal ESCRT machinery. We find that all components of the ESCRT apparatus are encapsidated into EVs. Using synchronized S. islandicus cultures, we show that EV production is linked to cell division and appears to be triggered by increased expression of ESCRT proteins during this cell cycle phase. Using a CRISPR-based knockdown system, we show that archaeal ESCRT-III and AAA+ ATPase Vps4 are required for EV production, whereas archaea-specific component CdvA appears to be dispensable. In particular, the active EV production appears to coincide with the expression patterns of ESCRT-III-1 and ESCRT-III-2, rather than ESCRT-III, suggesting a prime role of these proteins in EV budding. Collectively, our results suggest that ESCRT-mediated EV biogenesis has deep evolutionary roots, likely predating the divergence of eukaryotes and archaea, and that EVs play an important role in horizontal gene transfer and nutrient cycling in extreme environments.