Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Methanocaldococcus jannaschii, a deep-sea archaeon named for Holger Jannasch

Holger Windekilde Jannasch was a microbiologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution [1]: He was born in 1927 in Holzminden, Germany, and died in 1998 in Woods Hole after a long battle with cancer. His research in marine biology includes areas such as microbial growth kinetics in seawater, effects of low temperature and high pressure, and processes at hydrothermal vents. Holger's name became synonymous with deep-sea microbiology after new areas or research opened up in 1977, when the deep-sea hydrothermal vents were discovered.

Holger Jannasch was honored in 1996, when a thermophilic archaeon was named for him: Methanocaldococcus jannaschii. Rob Dunn describes the joint project of Craig Venter and Carl Woese, in which the genome of Methanocaldococcus jannaschii was sequenced [2]: This archaea species turned out to be very different from any bacteria species ever sequenced. But, according to Dunn, it showed some resemblance to Holger Jannasch, who had long, thick hair, a few pieces of which always waving about like the flagella cascading off one end of the Methanococcus cell in the photomicrographs published by Carl Woese.

One also finds the scientific name Methanococcus jannaschii in the (older) literature, since Methanocaldococcus was formerly known as Methanococcus. The name Methanocaldococcus emphasizes the thermophilicity of some species of this genus. The majority are mesophiles.

In case you want to turn into a “methanococcophile”, here are the family, order and class terms: Methanocaldococcaceae, Methanococcales, and Methanococci.

Keywords: microbiology, oceanography, archaea, methanogens, extreme thermophiles, taxonomy

References and further reading
[1] Media Relations Office of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: In Memoriam: Holger W. Jannasch [].
[2] Rob R. Dunn: Every Living Thing. First Edition. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2009; pages 175- 179.
[3] P. J. Haney, J. H. Badger, G. L. Buldak, C. I. Reich, C. R. Woese and G. J. Olsen: Thermal adaptation analyzed by comparison of protein sequences from mesophilic and extremely thermophilic Methanococcus species. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA March 1999, 96, pp. 3578-3583 [].

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