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Novel insight into archaea diversity

Unlike bacteria, unicellular archaea have been much less investigated. Using a genomics approach, European researchers characterised new lineages contributing to the archaeal phylogenetic diversity.
Novel insight into archaea diversity
Archaea constitute one of the three major domains of life in addition to Bacteria and Eukarya. Pioneering studies have shown that archaea are ecologically important and have played a major role in the origin of eukaryotes.

Today four archaea superphyla (DPANN, ASGARD, TACK and Euryarchaeota) are known. Although they are considered to be the least diverse domain of life, recent surveys demonstrate their existence in anoxic environments such as deep-sea sediments and aquatic habitats. However, characterisation efforts have been hampered by difficulties in cultivating these archaeal lineages under laboratory conditions.

The scope of the EU-funded ENIGMAARCHAEA (Shedding light on the diversity, ecology and evolution of enigmatic, uncultivated archaea using novel single cell and metagenomics approaches) project was to overcome culture limitations and study archaea diversity, evolution and geographical distribution. Researchers employed the powerful techniques of single cell genomics and metagenomics to obtain and analyse genome sequences of potentially novel archaeal phyla.

Samples were collected from various regions all around the world such as hot spring sediments, marine and river sediments. Scientists sequenced DNA from these samples and via sophisticated bioinformatics methods assigned them to individual genomes. This led to the identification of various genome sequences from uncultivated and novel members of the Archaea such as Lokiarchaeum, which is closely related to eukaryotes.

Interestingly, the analysis of archaea genomes identified protein-coding genes related to eukaryotic homologs, including actin and GTPases, known for their role in fundamental eukaryotic cellular processes. Significant observations were also made regarding the central carbon and energy metabolism in these lineages. Preliminary data indicated the presence of enzymes capable of degrading major pollutants in our ecosystems.

Overall, the ENIGMAARCHAEA study fundamentally changed our perception of the evolution of eukaryotes and attracted unprecedented media attention from all around the world. Apart from insight into archaea evolution and diversity, the project results may be of economic and ecological significance.

Related information


Archaea, genomics, eukaryotes, ENIGMAARCHAEA, metabolism
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