Co-occurring genomic capacity for anaerobic methane and dissimilatory sulfur metabolisms discovered in the Korarchaeota. Academic Article uri icon


  • Phylogenetic and geological evidence supports the hypothesis that life on Earth originated in thermal environments and conserved energy through methanogenesis or sulfur reduction. Here we describe two populations of the deeply rooted archaeal phylum Korarchaeota, which were retrieved from the metagenome of a circumneutral, suboxic hot spring that contains high levels of sulfate, sulfide, methane, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. One population is closely related to 'Candidatus Korarchaeum cryptofilum OPF8', while the more abundant korarchaeote, 'Candidatus Methanodesulfokores washburnensis', contains genes that are necessary for anaerobic methane and dissimilatory sulfur metabolisms. Phylogenetic and ancestral reconstruction analyses suggest that methane metabolism originated in the Korarchaeota, whereas genes for dissimilatory sulfite reduction were horizontally transferred to the Korarchaeota from the Firmicutes. Interactions among enzymes involved in both metabolisms could facilitate exergonic, sulfite-dependent, anaerobic oxidation of methane to methanol; alternatively, 'Ca. M. washburnensis' could conduct methanogenesis and sulfur reduction independently. Metabolic reconstruction suggests that 'Ca. M. washburnensis' is a mixotroph, capable of amino acid uptake, assimilation of methane-derived carbon and/or CO2 fixation by archaeal type III-b RuBisCO for scavenging ribose carbon. Our findings link anaerobic methane metabolism and dissimilatory sulfur reduction within a single deeply rooted archaeal population and have implications for the evolution of these traits throughout the Archaea.

publication date

  • March 2019