New paper published in Nature about our microbial ancestors, the Hodarchaeales

In the ongoing debates about eukaryogenesis—the series of evolutionary events leading to the emergence of the eukaryotic cell from prokaryotic ancestors— members of the Asgard archaea play a key part as the closest archaeal relatives of eukaryotes1. However, the nature and phylogenetic identity of the last common ancestor of Asgard archaea and eukaryotes remain unresolved2–4. Here we analyse distinct phylogenetic marker datasets of an expanded genomic sampling of Asgard archaea and evaluate competing evolutionary scenarios using state-of-the-art phylogenomic approaches. We find that eukaryotes are placed, with high confidence, as a well-nested clade within Asgard archaea and as a sister lineage to Hodarchaeales, a newly proposed order within Heimdallarchaeia. Using sophisticated gene tree and species tree reconciliation approaches, we show that analogous to the evolution of eukaryotic genomes, genome evolution in Asgard archaea involved significantly more gene duplication and fewer gene loss events compared with other archaea. Finally, we infer that the last common ancestor of Asgard archaea was probably a thermophilic chemolithotroph and that the lineage from which eukaryotes evolved adapted to mesophilic conditions and acquired the genetic potential to support a heterotrophic lifestyle. Our work provides key insights into the prokaryote-to-eukaryote transition and a platform for the emergence of cellular complexity in eukaryotic cells.

New publication led by Xianzhe Gong and Valerie De Anda

New globally distributed bacterial phyla within the FCB superphylum

Microbes in marine sediments play crucial roles in global carbon and nutrient cycling. However, our understanding of microbial diversity and physiology on the ocean floor is limited. Here, we use phylogenomic analyses of thousands of metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) from coastal and deep-sea sediments to identify 55 MAGs that are phylogenetically distinct from previously described bacterial phyla. We propose that these MAGs belong to 4 novel bacterial phyla (Blakebacterota, Orphanbacterota, Arandabacterota, and Joyebacterota) and a previously proposed phylum (AABM5-125-24), all of them within the FCB superphylum. Comparison of their rRNA genes with public databases reveals that these phyla are globally distributed in different habitats, including marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments. Genomic analyses suggest these organisms are capable of mediating key steps in sedimentary biogeochemistry, including anaerobic degradation of polysaccharides and proteins, and respiration of sulfur and nitrogen. Interestingly, these genomes code for an unusually high proportion (~9% on average, up to 20% per genome) of protein families lacking representatives in public databases. Genes encoding hundreds of these protein families co-localize with genes predicted to be involved in sulfur reduction, nitrogen cycling, energy conservation, and degradation of organic compounds. Our findings advance our understanding of bacterial diversity, the ecological roles of these bacteria, and potential links between novel gene families and metabolic processes in the oceans.


New study looking at carbon cycling in a serpentinization spring

Carbon metabolism and adaptation of hyperalkaliphilic microbes in serpentinizing spring of Manleluag, the Philippines


Reduced substrates produced by the serpentinization reaction under hydration of olivine may have fuelled biological processes on early Earth. To understand the adaptive strategies and carbon metabolism of the microbes in the serpentinizing ecosystems, we reconstructed 18 draft genomes representing dominant species of Omnitrophicaeota, Gammaproteobacteria and Methanobacteria from the Manleluag serpentinizing spring in Zambales, Philippines (hyperalkaline and rich in methane and hydrogen). Phylogenomics revealed that two genomes were affiliated with a candidate phylum NPL-UPA2 and the references of all our genomes were derived from ground waters, hot springs and the deep biosphere. C1 metabolism appears to be widespread as most of the genomes code for methanogenesis, CO oxidation and CO2 fixation. However, likely due to the low CO2concentration and election acceptors, the biomass in the spring was extremely low (<103 cell/ml). Various Na+ and K+ transporters and Na+-driving ATPases appear to be encoded by these genomes, suggesting that nutrient acquisition, bioenergetics and normal cytoplasmic pH were dependent on Na+ and K+ pumps. Our results advance our understanding of the metabolic potentials and bioenergetics of serpentinizing springs and provide a framework of the ecology of early Earth.