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Asgard archaea: Diversity, function, and evolutionary implications in a range of microbiomes

1 School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
2 Australian Centre for Astrobiology, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Elucidating the diversity of the Archaea has many important ecological and evolutionary implications. The Asgard superphylum of the archaea, described recently from metagenomic data, has reignited the decades-old debate surrounding the topology of the tree of life. This review synthesizes recent findings through publicly available genomes and literature to describe the current ecological and evolutionary significance of the Asgard superphylum. Asgard archaea have been found in a diverse range of microbiomes across the globe, primarily from sedimentary environments. Within these environments, positive correlations between specific members of the Asgard archaea and Candidate Division TA06 bacteria have been observed, opening up the possibility of symbiotic interactions between the groupings. Asgard archaeal genomes encode functionally diverse metabolic pathways, including the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway as a carbon-fixation strategy, putative nucleotide salvaging pathways, and novel mechanisms of phototrophy including new rhodopsins. Asgard archaea also appear to be active in nitrogen cycling. Asgard archaea encode genes involved in both dissimilatory nitrate reduction and denitrification, and for the potential to use atmospheric nitrogen or nitrite as nitrogen sources. Asgard archaea also may be involved in the transformation of sulfur compounds, indicating a putative role in sulfur cycling. To date, all Asgard archaeal genomes identified were described as obligately anaerobic. The Asgard archaea also appear to have important evolutionary implications. The presence of eukaryotic signature proteins and the affiliation of Asgard archaea in phylogenetic analyses appears to support two-domain topologies of the tree of life with eukaryotes emerging from within the domain of archaea, as opposed to the eukaryotes being a separate domain of life. Thus far, Heimdallarchaeota appears as the closest archaeal relative of eukaryotes.
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Keywords Asgard; archaea; eukarya; ecology; evolution; eocyte; genome; microbiome; phylogeny; metabolism

Citation: Fraser MacLeod, Gareth S. Kindler, Hon Lun Wong, Ray Chen, Brendan P. Burns. Asgard archaea: Diversity, function, and evolutionary implications in a range of microbiomes. AIMS Microbiology, 2019, 5(1): 48-61. doi: 10.3934/microbiol.2019.1.48

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