Evolutionary patterns of archaea predominant in acidic environment

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BACKGROUND: Archaea of the order Thermoplasmatales are widely distributed in natural acidic areas and are amongst the most acidophilic prokaryotic organisms known so far. These organisms are difficult to culture, with currently only six genera validly published since the discovery of Thermoplasma acidophilum in 1970. Moreover, known great diversity of uncultured Thermoplasmatales represents microbial dark matter and underlines the necessity of efforts in cultivation and study of these archaea. Organisms from the order Thermoplasmatales affiliated with the so-called "alphabet-plasmas", and collectively dubbed "E-plasma", were the focus of this study. These archaea were found predominantly in the hyperacidic site PM4 of Parys Mountain, Wales, UK, making up to 58% of total metagenomic reads. However, these archaea escaped all cultivation attempts.

RESULTS: Their genome-based metabolism revealed its peptidolytic potential, in line with the physiology of the previously studied Thermoplasmatales isolates. Analyses of the genome and evolutionary history reconstruction have shown both the gain and loss of genes, that may have contributed to the success of the "E-plasma" in hyperacidic environment compared to their community neighbours. Notable genes among them are involved in the following molecular processes: signal transduction, stress response and glyoxylate shunt, as well as multiple copies of genes associated with various cellular functions; from energy production and conversion, replication, recombination, and repair, to cell wall/membrane/envelope biogenesis and archaella production. History events reconstruction shows that these genes, acquired by putative common ancestors, may determine the evolutionary and functional divergences of "E-plasma", which is much more developed than other representatives of the order Thermoplasmatales. In addition, the ancestral hereditary reconstruction strongly indicates the placement of Thermogymnomonas acidicola close to the root of the Thermoplasmatales.

CONCLUSIONS: This study has analysed the metagenome-assembled genome of "E-plasma", which denotes the basis of their predominance in Parys Mountain environmental microbiome, their global ubiquity, and points into the right direction of further cultivation attempts. The results suggest distinct evolutionary trajectories of organisms comprising the order Thermoplasmatales, which is important for the understanding of their evolution and lifestyle.

Original languageEnglish
Article number61
JournalEnvironmental Microbiome
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2023

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