Analysis of putative nonulosonic acid biosynthesis pathways in Archaea reveals a complex evolutionary history


Correspondence: Jerry Eichler, Department of Life Sciences, Ben Gurion University, PO Box 653, Beersheva 84105, Israel. Tel.: 972 8646 1343; fax: 972 8647 9175; e-mail:


Sialic acids and the other nonulosonic acid sugars, legionaminic acid and pseudaminic acid, are nine carbon-containing sugars that can be detected as components of the glycans decorating proteins and other molecules in Eukarya and Bacteria. Yet, despite the prevalence of N-glycosylation in Archaea and the variety of sugars recruited for the archaeal version of this post-translational modification, only a single report of a nonulosonic acid sugar in an archaeal N-linked glycan has appeared. Hence, to obtain a clearer picture of nonulosonic acid sugar biosynthesis capability in Archaea, 122 sequenced genomes were scanned for the presence of genes involved in the biogenesis of these sugars. The results reveal that while Archaea and Bacteria share a common route of sialic acid biosynthesis, numerous archaeal nonulosonic acid sugar biosynthesis pathway components were acquired from elsewhere via various routes. Still, the limited number of Archaea encoding components involved in the synthesis of nonulosonic acid sugars implies that such saccharides are not major components of glycans in this domain.