skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 10:00 PM ET on Friday, December 8 until 2:00 AM ET on Saturday, December 9 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Brockarchaeota, a novel archaeal phylum with unique and versatile carbon cycling pathways
Abstract Geothermal environments, such as hot springs and hydrothermal vents, are hotspots for carbon cycling and contain many poorly described microbial taxa. Here, we reconstructed 15 archaeal metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) from terrestrial hot spring sediments in China and deep-sea hydrothermal vent sediments in Guaymas Basin, Gulf of California. Phylogenetic analyses of these MAGs indicate that they form a distinct group within the TACK superphylum, and thus we propose their classification as a new phylum, ‘Brockarchaeota’, named after Thomas Brock for his seminal research in hot springs. Based on the MAG sequence information, we infer that some Brockarchaeota are uniquely capable of mediating non-methanogenic anaerobic methylotrophy, via the tetrahydrofolate methyl branch of the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway and reductive glycine pathway. The hydrothermal vent genotypes appear to be obligate fermenters of plant-derived polysaccharides that rely mostly on substrate-level phosphorylation, as they seem to lack most respiratory complexes. In contrast, hot spring lineages have alternate pathways to increase their ATP yield, including anaerobic methylotrophy of methanol and trimethylamine, and potentially use geothermally derived mercury, arsenic, or hydrogen. Their broad distribution and their apparent anaerobic metabolic versatility indicate that Brockarchaeota may occupy previously overlooked roles in anaerobic carbon cycling.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Nature Communications
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Semrau, Jeremy D. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Little is known of how the confluence of subsurface and surface processes influences the assembly and habitability of hydrothermal ecosystems. To address this knowledge gap, the geochemical and microbial composition of a high-temperature, circumneutral hot spring in Yellowstone National Park was examined to identify the sources of solutes and their effect on the ecology of microbial inhabitants. Metagenomic analysis showed that populations comprising planktonic and sediment communities are archaeal dominated, are dependent on chemical energy (chemosynthetic), share little overlap in their taxonomic composition, and are differentiated by their inferred use of/tolerance to oxygen and mode of carbon metabolism. The planktonic community is dominated by putative aerobic/aerotolerant autotrophs, while the taxonomic composition of the sediment community is more evenly distributed and comprised of anaerobic heterotrophs. These observations are interpreted to reflect sourcing of the spring by anoxic, organic carbon-limited subsurface hydrothermal fluids and ingassing of atmospheric oxygen that selects for aerobic/aerotolerant organisms that have autotrophic capabilities in the water column. Autotrophy and consumption of oxygen by the planktonic community may influence the assembly of the anaerobic and heterotrophic sediment community. Support for this inference comes from higher estimated rates of genome replication in planktonic populations than sediment populations, indicating faster growth in planktonic populations. Collectively, these observations provide new insight into how mixing of subsurface waters and atmospheric oxygen create dichotomy in the ecology of hot spring communities and suggest that planktonic and sediment communities may have been less differentiated taxonomically and functionally prior to the rise of oxygen at ∼2.4 billion years ago (Gya). IMPORTANCE Understanding the source and availability of energy capable of supporting life in hydrothermal environments is central to predicting the ecology of microbial life on early Earth when volcanic activity was more widespread. Little is known of the substrates supporting microbial life in circumneutral to alkaline springs, despite their relevance to early Earth habitats. Using metagenomic and informatics approaches, water column and sediment habitats in a representative circumneutral hot spring in Yellowstone were shown to be dichotomous, with the former largely hosting aerobic/aerotolerant autotrophs and the latter primarily hosting anaerobic heterotrophs. This dichotomy is attributed to influx of atmospheric oxygen into anoxic deep hydrothermal spring waters. These results indicate that the ecology of microorganisms in circumneutral alkaline springs sourced by deep hydrothermal fluids was different prior to the rise of atmospheric oxygen ∼2.4 Gya, with planktonic and sediment communities likely to be less differentiated than contemporary circumneutral hot springs. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    The origin(s) of dissimilatory sulfate and/or (bi)sulfite reducing organisms (SRO) remains enigmatic despite their importance in global carbon and sulfur cycling since at least 3.4 Ga. Here, we describe novel, deep-branching archaeal SRO populations distantly related to other Diaforarchaea from two moderately acidic thermal springs. Dissimilatory (bi)sulfite reductase homologs, DsrABC, encoded in metagenome assembled genomes (MAGs) from spring sediments comprise one of the earliest evolving Dsr lineages. DsrA homologs were expressed in situ under moderately acidic conditions. MAGs lacked genes encoding proteins that activate sulfate prior to (bi)sulfite reduction. This is consistent with sulfide production in enrichment cultures provided sulfite but not sulfate. We suggest input of volcanic sulfur dioxide to anoxic spring-water yields (bi)sulfite and moderately acidic conditions that favor its stability and bioavailability. The presence of similar volcanic springs at the time SRO are thought to have originated (>3.4 Ga) may have supplied (bi)sulfite that supported ancestral SRO. These observations coincide with the lack of inferred SO42−reduction capacity in nearly all organisms with early-branching DsrAB and which are near universally found in hydrothermal environments.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    High-temperature geothermal springs host simplified microbial communities; however, the activities of individual microorganisms and their roles in the carbon cycle in nature are not well understood. Here, quantitative stable isotope probing (qSIP) was used to track the assimilation of13C-acetate and13C-aspartate into DNA in 74 °C sediments in Gongxiaoshe Hot Spring, Tengchong, China. This revealed a community-wide preference for aspartate and a tight coupling between aspartate incorporation into DNA and the proliferation of aspartate utilizers during labeling. Both13C incorporation into DNA and changes in the abundance of taxa during incubations indicated strong resource partitioning and a significant phylogenetic signal for aspartate incorporation. Of the active amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) identified by qSIP, most could be matched with genomes from Gongxiaoshe Hot Spring or nearby springs with an average nucleotide similarity of 99.4%. Genomes corresponding to aspartate primary utilizers were smaller, near-universally encoded polar amino acid ABC transporters, and had codon preferences indicative of faster growth rates. The most active ASVs assimilating both substrates were not abundant, suggesting an important role for the rare biosphere in the community response to organic carbon addition. The broad incorporation of aspartate into DNA over acetate by the hot spring community may reflect dynamic cycling of cell lysis products in situ or substrates delivered during monsoon rains and may reflect N limitation.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract Background

    When deep-sea hydrothermal fluids mix with cold oxygenated fluids, minerals precipitate out of solution and form hydrothermal deposits. These actively venting deep-sea hydrothermal deposits support a rich diversity of thermophilic microorganisms which are involved in a range of carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, and hydrogen metabolisms. Global patterns of thermophilic microbial diversity in deep-sea hydrothermal ecosystems have illustrated the strong connectivity between geological processes and microbial colonization, but little is known about the genomic diversity and physiological potential of these novel taxa. Here we explore this genomic diversity in 42 metagenomes from four deep-sea hydrothermal vent fields and a deep-sea volcano collected from 2004 to 2018 and document their potential implications in biogeochemical cycles.


    Our dataset represents 3635 metagenome-assembled genomes encompassing 511 novel and recently identified genera from deep-sea hydrothermal settings. Some of the novel bacterial (107) and archaeal genera (30) that were recently reported from the deep-sea Brothers volcano were also detected at the deep-sea hydrothermal vent fields, while 99 bacterial and 54 archaeal genera were endemic to the deep-sea Brothers volcano deposits. We report some of the first examples of medium- (≥ 50% complete, ≤ 10% contaminated) to high-quality (> 90% complete, < 5% contaminated) MAGs from phyla and families never previously identified, or poorly sampled, from deep-sea hydrothermal environments. We greatly expand the novel diversity of Thermoproteia, Patescibacteria (Candidate Phyla Radiation, CPR), and Chloroflexota found at deep-sea hydrothermal vents and identify a small sampling of two potentially novel phyla, designated JALSQH01 and JALWCF01. Metabolic pathway analysis of metagenomes provides insights into the prevalent carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and hydrogen metabolic processes across all sites and illustrates sulfur and nitrogen metabolic “handoffs” in community interactions. We confirm that Campylobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria occupy similar ecological guilds but their prevalence in a particular site is driven by shifts in the geochemical environment.


    Our study of globally distributed hydrothermal vent deposits provides a significant expansion of microbial genomic diversity associated with hydrothermal vent deposits and highlights the metabolic adaptation of taxonomic guilds. Collectively, our results illustrate the importance of comparative biodiversity studies in establishing patterns of shared phylogenetic diversity and physiological ecology, while providing many targets for enrichment and cultivation of novel and endemic taxa.

    more » « less
  5. Summary

    Little is known about how the geological history of an environment shapes its physical and chemical properties and how these, in turn, influence the assembly of communities. Evening primrose (EP), a moderately acidic hot spring (pH 5.6, 77.4°C) in Yellowstone National Park (YNP), has undergone dramatic physicochemical change linked to seismic activity. Here, we show that this legacy of geologic change led to the development of an unusual sulphur‐rich, anoxic chemical environment that supports a unique archaeal‐dominated and anaerobic microbial community. Metagenomic sequencing and informatics analyses reveal that >96% of this community is supported by dissimilatory reduction or disproportionation of inorganic sulphur compounds, including a novel, deeply diverging sulphate‐reducing thaumarchaeote. When compared to other YNP metagenomes, the inferred functions of EP populations were like those from sulphur‐rich acidic springs, suggesting that sulphur may overprint the predominant influence of pH on the composition of hydrothermal communities. Together, these observations indicate that the dynamic geological history of EP underpins its unique geochemistry and biodiversity, emphasizing the need to consider the legacy of geologic change when describing processes that shape the assembly of communities.

    more » « less