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How is Life Classified?

Before 1969: Life was classified into two kingdoms: Plant Kindgom – Animal Kingdom
From 1969 – 1990: Life was classified into 5 Kingdoms: Monera, Protista, Plantae, Fungi,
Animalia, by R.H. Whittaker [Science 163, 150 (1969)] using classification according to
Linnaeus – based on anatomy, morphology, embryology, and cell structure.

BUT – the traditional 5 Kingdom system says nothing about how organisms within Kingdoms or
between kingdoms may be related to each other via evolutionary relationships among the

A New Proposal: The Three Domains of Life (Carl Woese, 1990)
How was the 'Three Domain' Classification of Life Determined?
Woese (and many other scientists involved in this project) used the nucleotide sequence
of Ribosomal rRNA (the small subunit) and other RNA and protein sequences as an
“Evolutionary Chronometer” – an evolutionary time clock.
What makes rRNA (or another sequence) a good ‘chronometer’?
1. It is universally distributed across group chosen – all organisms have rRNA
2. It is functionaly similar between organisms – rRNAs all participate in protein synthesis
3. Its sequence changes slowly - good for looking across long periods of time
4. The rRNA sequences can be aligned, or matched up, between 2 organisms
Other sequences that can be used are the large rRNA subunit, or the gene for cytochrome c
oxidase, ferredoxin.

The Three Domain System
As scientists learn more about organisms, classification systems change. Genetic sequencing has
given researchers a whole new way of analyzing relationships between organisms.
The current system, the Three Domain System, groups organisms primarily based on differences
in ribosomal RNA structure.
Ribosomal RNA is a molecular building block for ribosomes.
Under this system, organisms are classified into three domains and six kingdoms. The domains
are Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya. The kingdoms are Archaebacteria (ancient bacteria),
Eubacteria (true bacteria), Protista, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia.
The Archaea and Bacteria domains contain prokaryotic organisms. These are organisms that do
not have a membrane bound nucleus.

traditionally classified as bacteria. often characterized by living in extreme environments. 3... Extreme Halophiles: “salt lovers” Require an environment as salty or even10x saltier than ocean water. Some examples of archaeal organisms are methanogens which produce the gas methane. Spirochaetes – Gram-negative bacteria that include those causing . traditionally classified as archaebacteria. termites. Methanogens may someday be used to produce methane as fuel! 2. etc. or organisms that have a membrane bound nucleus. and thermoacidophiles which thrive in acidic high temperature water. Archaea: Life's Extremists. distinct biochemistry and RNA markers from bacteria. no nuclear membrane. Thermophiles live in hot sulfur springs. Live in swamps. H and N to produce energy to live. halophiles which live in very salty water. Fungi. the Great Salt Lake. isolated from the deep sea Alvin probe. under the polar ice caps. consists of prokaryotic cells possessing primarily diacyl glycerol diester lipids in their membranes and bacterial rRNA. Methanogens: “methane-makers” Use only CO2. Plantae. The Eukarya domain includes eukaryotes. no nuclear membrane. Some prefer up to 30% salt concentrations! These bacteria live in the Dead Sea. Extreme Thermophiles: “heat / cold lovers” Prefer temperatures above 60 °C (up to 110 °C for hyperthermophiles!) or near or below freezing. This domain is further subdivided into the kingdoms Protista. Thermus aquaticus and Pyrococcus furiosis and two species. and Animalia. Domain Bacteria – prokaryotic. Methanogens are decomposers.! 1. geothermal power plants. etc. Also live in ocean waters around Antarctica. Most of the known pathogenic prokaryotic organisms belong to bacteria and are currently studied more extensively than Archaea. and as a result give off methane gas. possess unique ancient evolutionary history for which they are considered some of the oldest species of organisms on Earth. and can be used in sewage treatment. (Some thermophiles will die at roon temperature).Eubacteria are classified under the Bacteria domain and archaebacteria are classified as Archaeans. Methanococcus jannaschii. Some examples of bacteria include Cyanobacteria photosynthesizing bacteria that are related to the chloroplasts of eukaryotic plants and algae.Some Characteristics: Domain Archaea – prokaryotic. The Three domains . deep sea hydrothermal vents “black smokers”. Yellowstone Park. marshes. salt evaporation ponds. was the first Archaean whose genome was sequenced. gut of cattle.

syphilis and Lyme disease. human beings Comparison of Classification Systems Five Kingdom System Kingdoms: Monera. An inexhaustive list of eukaryotic organisms includes:  Kingdom Fungi or fungi Examples:  Saccharomycotina – includes true yeasts  Basidiomycota – includes blue oyster mushrooms  Kingdom Plantae or plants Examples:  Bryophyta – mosses  Magnoliophyta – flowering plants  Kingdom Animalia or animals Examples:  Arthropoda – includes insects. as such. and Animalia. organisms that contain a membrane bound nucleus. and Firmicutes – Gram-positive bacteria including Bifidobacterium animalis which is present in the human large intestine. Fungi. and crustaceans  Chordata – includes vertebrates and. Plantae. Protista. arachnids. Domain Eukarya – eukaryotes.   Three Domain System Archaea Domain Archaebacteria Kingdom  Bacteria Domain Eubacteria Kingdom Eukarya Domain .

but as new information is gained. systems for classifying organisms change with new discoveries made over time. . Protista Kingdom  Fungi Kingdom  Plantae Kingdom  Animalia Kingdom As we have seen. a different system for classifying organisms may later be developed. The earliest systems recognized only two kingdoms (plant and animal). The current Three Domain System is the best organizational system we have now.