Extremophilic archaea provide clues on evolution of sulfur metabolism


Share post:

The use of sulfur compounds to produce energy is one of the most ancient types of metabolisms used by primitive microorganisms to thrive on the early anoxic Earth. How this microbial lifestyle has been evolving remains unclear.

Extremophilic archaea provide clues on evolution of sulfur metabolism
Credit: Nikolay A. Chernyh et al. 2020

The increase of oxygen in the atmosphere approximately 2.5 billion years ago lead to the accumulation of sulfate, the most-oxidized form of sulfur. Sulfate reduction became the most important process in the global cycle of sulfur. It is a dominant microbial process in oxygen-free environments, such as marine and freshwater sediments. However, the geological evidence of microbial dissimilatory sulfate reduction (DSR) dates back to about 3.5 billion years ago, and predates the appearance of oxygen in the atmosphere.

Since the early life was evolving under hot and anoxic conditions, it was therefore important to examine the microorganisms from modern ecosystems with similar conditions in the environments resembling those on early Earth. The study was therefore focussed on a new archaeon “Candidatus Vulcanisaeta moutnovskia,” an acid- and hot-temperatures-loving microorganism from acidic hot spring in Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia).

In an article published in Nature Microbiology, an international team of researchers led by Dr. Nikolay Chernyh and Prof Elizaveta Bonch-Osmolovskaya of the Winogradsky Institute of Microbiology in Moscow, colleagues from Madrid, Vienna and Bangor University’s Center for Environmental Biotechnology (CEB) at the School of Natural Sciences revealed that the sulfate reduction in the hot spring is attributed to “Candidatus Vulcanisaeta moutnovskia.” The team used microbial community profiling coupled with growth experiments, radioisotopes and proteomics and analysis of evolutionary trajectory of DSR genes.

Sulfate reduction in Archaea is less known, as compared with Bacteria, the most numerous group of living organisms. However, the analysis of genomes suggests that the genes for the second reaction in DSR are more ancient in Archaea, and were probably even present in the hypothetical “Last Universal Common Ancestor” (LUCA) organism.

“Evidently, the sulfate reduction in the hot spring is facilitated by ‘Vulcanisaeta’ that have recruited some genetic loci for this process from bacteria, their neighbors in the environment, a very long time ago. ‘Vulcanisaeta’ can possibly be considered a relic form of life in such environments and is a great model organism to study the evolution of sulfur metabolism,” comments Prof Peter Golyshin from CEB, Bangor University, who contributed to the analysis of proteomic data in this study.

Source: Bangor University [August 21, 2020]



Related articles

Island lizards are expert sunbathers, and researchers find it’s slowing their evolution

If you've ever spent some time in the Caribbean, you might have noticed that humans are not the...

‘Bee’ thankful for the evolution of pollen

Over 80% of the world's flowering plants must reproduce in order to produce new flowers, according to the...

Compound eyes a continuous feature of evolution

Researchers from Cologne, Tallinn, and Edinburgh have found out that the compound eyes of today's arthropods are still...

How genetics and social games drive evolution of mating systems in mammals

Traditional explanations for why some animals are monogamous and others are promiscuous or polygamous have focused on how...

Bringing water to the fountain of youth

When it comes to sex, frogs, just like in people, exhibit a similar XX (female) and XY (male)...

Iron toxicity for cyanobacteria delayed oxygen accumulation in early Earth’s atmosphere

Three billion years ago, Earth's atmosphere contained less than 0.0001 percent oxygen. Today's atmosphere has around 20 percent...

Plants are given a new family tree

A new genealogy of plant evolution, led by researchers at the University of Bristol, shows that the first...

Snout dated: Slow-evolving elephant shark offers new insights into survival of vertebrates living on land

The mineralocortoid receptor (MR) regulates water and sodium transport throughout cells and tissues, which is critical for controlling...