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  1. Spear, John R. (Ed.)

    The degree of cyclization, or ring index (RI), in archaeal glycerol dibiphytanyl glycerol tetraether (GDGT) lipids was long thought to reflect homeoviscous adaptation to temperature. However, more recent experiments show that other factors (e.g., pH, growth phase, and energy flux) can also affect membrane composition. The main objective of this study was to investigate the effect of carbon and energy metabolism on membrane cyclization. To do so, we cultivatedAcidianussp. DS80, a metabolically flexible and thermoacidophilic archaeon, on different electron donor, acceptor, and carbon source combinations (S0/Fe3+/CO2, H2/Fe3+/CO2, H2/S0/CO2, or H2/S0/glucose). We show that differences in energy and carbon metabolism can result in over a full unit of change in RI in the thermoacidophileAcidianussp. DS80. The patterns in RI correlated with the normalized electron transfer rate between the electron donor and acceptor and did not always align with thermodynamic predictions of energy yield. In light of this, we discuss other factors that may affect the kinetics of cellular energy metabolism: electron transfer chain (ETC) efficiency, location of ETC reaction components (cytoplasmicvs.extracellular), and the physical state of electron donors and acceptors (gasvs.solid). Furthermore, the assimilation of a more reduced form of carbon during heterotrophy appears to decrease the demand for reducing equivalents during lipid biosynthesis, resulting in lower RI. Together, these results point to the fundamental role of the cellular energy state in dictating GDGT cyclization, with those cells experiencing greater energy limitation synthesizing more cyclized GDGTs.


    Some archaea make unique membrane-spanning lipids with different numbers of five- or six-membered rings in the core structure, which modulate membrane fluidity and permeability. Changes in membrane core lipid composition reflect the fundamental adaptation strategies of archaea in response to stress, but multiple environmental and physiological factors may affect the needs for membrane fluidity and permeability. In this study, we tested howAcidianussp. DS80 changed its core lipid composition when grown with different electron donor/acceptor pairs. We show that changes in energy and carbon metabolisms significantly affected the relative abundance of rings in the core lipids of DS80. These observations highlight the need to better constrain metabolic parameters, in addition to environmental factors, which may influence changes in membrane physiology in Archaea. Such consideration would be particularly important for studying archaeal lipids from habitats that experience frequent environmental fluctuations and/or where metabolically diverse archaea thrive.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 18, 2025
  2. Archaea adjust the number of cyclopentane rings in their glycerol dibiphytanyl glycerol tetraether (GDGT) membrane lipids as a homeostatic response to environmental stressors such as temperature, pH, and energy availability shifts. However, archaeal expression patterns that correspond with changes in GDGT composition are less understood. Here we characterize the acid and cold stress responses of the thermoacidophilic crenarchaeonSaccharolobus islandicusREY15A using growth rates, core GDGT lipid profiles, transcriptomics and proteomics. We show that both stressors result in impaired growth, lower average GDGT cyclization, and differences in gene and protein expression. Transcription data revealed differential expression of the GDGT ring synthasegrsBin response to both acid stress and cold stress. Although the GDGT ring synthase encoded bygrsBforms highly cyclized GDGTs with ≥5 ring moieties,S. islandicus grsBupregulation under acidic pH conditions did not correspond with increased abundances of highly cyclized GDGTs. Our observations highlight the inability to predict GDGT changes from transcription data alone. Broader analysis of transcriptomic data revealed thatS. islandicusdifferentially expresses many of the same transcripts in response to both acid and cold stress. These included upregulation of several biosynthetic pathways and downregulation of oxidative phosphorylation and motility. Transcript responses specific to either of the two stressors tested here included upregulation of genes related to proton pumping and molecular turnover in acid stress conditions and upregulation of transposases in cold stress conditions. Overall, our study provides a comprehensive understanding of the GDGT modifications and differential expression characteristic of the acid stress and cold stress responses inS. islandicus.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 15, 2024
  3. Archaeal membrane lipids are widely used for paleotemperature reconstructions, yet these molecular fossils also bear rich information about ecology and evolution of marine ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA). Here we identified thermal and nonthermal behaviors of archaeal glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) by comparing the GDGT-based temperature index (TEX 86 ) to the ratio of GDGTs with two and three cyclopentane rings (GDGT-2/GDGT-3). Thermal-dependent biosynthesis should increase TEX 86 and decrease GDGT-2/GDGT-3 when the ambient temperature increases. This presumed temperature-dependent (PTD) trend is observed in GDGTs derived from cultures of thermophilic and mesophilic AOA. The distribution of GDGTs in suspended particulate matter (SPM) and sediments collected from above the pycnocline—shallow water samples—also follows the PTD trend. These similar GDGT distributions between AOA cultures and shallow water environmental samples reflect shallow ecotypes of marine AOA. While there are currently no cultures of deep AOA clades, GDGTs derived from deep water SPM and marine sediment samples exhibit nonthermal behavior deviating from the PTD trend. The presence of deep AOA increases the GDGT-2/GDGT-3 ratio and distorts the temperature-controlled correlation between GDGT-2/GDGT-3 and TEX 86 . We then used Gaussian mixture models to statistically characterize these diagnostic patterns of modern AOA ecology from paleo-GDGT records to infer the evolution of marine AOA from the Mid-Mesozoic to the present. Long-term GDGT-2/GDGT-3 trends suggest a suppression of today’s deep water marine AOA during the Mesozoic–early Cenozoic greenhouse climates. Our analysis provides invaluable insights into the evolutionary timeline and the expansion of AOA niches associated with major oceanographic and climate changes. 
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  4. The geological record encodes the relationship between climate and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over long and short timescales, as well as potential drivers of evolutionary transitions. However, reconstructing CO2beyond direct measurements requires the use of paleoproxies and herein lies the challenge, as proxies differ in their assumptions, degree of understanding, and even reconstructed values. In this study, we critically evaluated, categorized, and integrated available proxies to create a high-fidelity and transparently constructed atmospheric CO2record spanning the past 66 million years. This newly constructed record provides clearer evidence for higher Earth system sensitivity in the past and for the role of CO2thresholds in biological and cryosphere evolution.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 8, 2024
  5. Bacterial hopanoid lipids are ubiquitous in the geologic record and serve as biomarkers for reconstructing Earth’s climatic and biogeochemical evolution. Specifically, the abundance of 2-methylhopanoids deposited during Mesozoic ocean anoxic events (OAEs) and other intervals has been interpreted to reflect proliferation of nitrogen-fixing marine cyanobacteria. However, there currently is no conclusive evidence for 2-methylhopanoid production by extant marine cyanobacteria. As an alternative explanation, here we report 2-methylhopanoid production by bacteria of the genusNitrobacter, cosmopolitan nitrite oxidizers that inhabit nutrient-rich freshwater, brackish, and marine environments. The model organismNitrobacter vulgarisproduced only trace amounts of 2-methylhopanoids when grown in minimal medium or with added methionine, the presumed biosynthetic methyl donor. Supplementation of cultures with cobalamin (vitamin B12) increased nitrite oxidation rates and stimulated a 33-fold increase of 2-methylhopanoid abundance, indicating that the biosynthetic reaction mechanism is cobalamin dependent. BecauseNitrobacterspp. cannot synthesize cobalamin, we postulate that they acquire it from organisms inhabiting a shared ecological niche—for example, ammonia-oxidizing archaea. We propose that during nutrient-rich conditions, cobalamin-based mutualism intensifies upper water column nitrification, thus promoting 2-methylhopanoid deposition. In contrast, anoxia underlying oligotrophic surface ocean conditions in restricted basins would prompt shoaling of anaerobic ammonium oxidation, leading to low observed 2-methylhopanoid abundances. The first scenario is consistent with hypotheses of enhanced nutrient loading during OAEs, while the second is consistent with the sedimentary record of Pliocene–Pleistocene Mediterranean sapropel events. We thus hypothesize that nitrogen cycling in the Pliocene–Pleistocene Mediterranean resembled modern, highly stratified basins, whereas no modern analog exists for OAEs.

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