For years, microbiologists characterized the Archaea as obligate extremophiles that thrive in environments too harsh for other organisms. The limited physiological diversity among cultivated Archaea suggested that these organisms were metabolically constrained to a few environmental niches. For instance, all Crenarchaeota that are currently cultivated are sulphur-metabolizing thermophiles. However, landmark studies using cultivation-independent methods uncovered vast numbers of Crenarchaeota in cold oxic ocean waters. Subsequent molecular surveys demonstrated the ubiquity of these low-temperature Crenarchaeota in aquatic and terrestrial environments. The numerical dominance of marine Crenarchaeota--estimated at 10(28) cells in the world's oceans--suggests that they have a major role in global biogeochemical cycles. Indeed, isotopic analyses of marine crenarchaeal lipids suggest that these planktonic Archaea fix inorganic carbon. Here we report the isolation of a marine crenarchaeote that grows chemolithoautotrophically by aerobically oxidizing ammonia to nitrite--the first observation of nitrification in the Archaea. The autotrophic metabolism of this isolate, and its close phylogenetic relationship to environmental marine crenarchaeal sequences, suggests that nitrifying marine Crenarchaeota may be important to global carbon and nitrogen cycles.