ISME Communications 1(1) , 30 (2021/06/28 2021)
Asgardarchaeota have been proposed as the closest living relatives to eukaryotes, and a total of 72 metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) representing six primary lineages in this archaeal phylum have thus far been described. These organisms are predicted to be fermentative heterotrophs contributing to carbon cycling in sediment ecosystems. Here, we double the genomic catalogue of Asgardarchaeota by obtaining 71 MAGs from a range of habitats around the globe, including the deep subsurface, brackish shallow lakes, and geothermal spring sediments. Phylogenomic inferences followed by taxonomic rank normalisation confirmed previously established Asgardarchaeota classes and revealed four additional lineages, two of which were consistently recovered as monophyletic classes. We therefore propose the names Candidatus Sifarchaeia class nov. and Ca. Jordarchaeia class nov., derived from the gods Sif and Jord in Norse mythology. Metabolic inference suggests that both classes represent hetero-organotrophic acetogens, which also have the ability to utilise methyl groups such as methylated amines, with acetate as the probable end product in remnants of a methanogen-derived core metabolism. This inferred mode of energy conservation is predicted to be enhanced by genetic code expansions, i.e., stop codon recoding, allowing the incorporation of the rare 21st and 22nd amino acids selenocysteine (Sec) and pyrrolysine (Pyl). We found Sec recoding in Jordarchaeia and all other Asgardarchaeota classes, which likely benefit from increased catalytic activities of Sec-containing enzymes. Pyl recoding, on the other hand, is restricted to Sifarchaeia in the Asgardarchaeota, making it the first reported non-methanogenic archaeal lineage with an inferred complete Pyl machinery, likely providing members of this class with an efficient mechanism for methylamine utilisation. Furthermore, we identified enzymes for the biosynthesis of ester-type lipids, characteristic of bacteria and eukaryotes, in both newly described classes, supporting the hypothesis that mixed ether-ester lipids are a shared feature among Asgardarchaeota.