Occurrence of viable, red-pigmented haloarchaea in the plumage of captive flamingoes

Kyung June Yim, Joseph Kwon, In Tae Cha, Kyung Seo Oh, Hye Seon Song, Hae Won Lee, Jin Kyu Rhee, Eun Ji Song, Jeong Rae Rho, Mi Lyu Seo, Jong Soon Choi, Hak Jong Choi, Sung Jae Lee, Young Do Nam, Seong Woon Roh

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Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus spp.) whose plumage displays elegant colors, inhabit warm regions close to the ocean throughout the world. The pink or reddish color of their plumage originates from carotenoids ingested from carotenoid-abundant food sources, since flamingoes are unable to synthesize these compounds de novo. In this study, viable red-colored archaeal strains classified as extremely halophilic archaea (i.e., haloarchaea) and belonging to the genera Halococcus and Halogeometricum were isolated from the plumage of flamingoes in captivity. Detailed analysis for haloarchaeal community structure in flamingo feathers based on metagenomic data identified several haloarchaeal genera and unclassified sequences of the class Halobacteria at the genus level. Carotenoid pigment analyses showed that a bacterioruberin precursor carotenoid in haloarchaea was identical to one of the pigments found in flamingo plumage. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of viable extremophilic archaea in avian plumage, thus contributing to our understanding of the ecology of haloarchaea. The potential influence of haloarchaea as an environmental factor determining avian plumage coloration should be investigated in further studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16425
JournalScientific Reports
StatePublished - 10 Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (2012R1A1A2040922), by a grant from the Korea Food Research Institute (project no. E0143023840), and by a project fund (C34703) to J.S. Choi from the Center for Analytical Research of Disaster Science of Korea Basic Science Institute. The authors would like to thank Dr. Michael L. Dyall-Smith for providing constructive advices.


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