Marine planktonic crenarchaeota have escaped all cultivation attempts to date, all crenarchaeota growing in pure culture so far being hyperthermophiles. Here, we present a comparative genomic analysis of a 16S- plus 23S-rDNA-containing fragment of a crenarchaeote retrieved from an environmental genomic library constructed from picoplankton collected at 500 m depth in the Antarctic Polar Front. The clone DeepAnt-EC39 contained an insert of 33.3 kbp, which was completely sequenced. DeepAnt-EC39 appears to represent a lineage specific to deep-sea waters but widespread geographically, as revealed by the analysis of the 16S-23S-rDNA intergenic spacer region. A comparison with previously sequenced marine crenarchaeotal genomic clones also containing an rrn operon (74A4, 4B7 and Cenarchaeum symbiosum strains A and B) revealed a highly variable structure involving gene rearrangements and insertions/deletions. The surroundings of the rrn operon and the contiguous glutamate-1-semialdehyde aminotransferase gene appear hot spots for recombination. Phylogenetic analyses of all individual predicted proteins revealed the existence of several likely cases of horizontal gene transfer both, between the two archaeal kingdoms and between the two prokaryotic domains. The most frequent horizontal transfers appear to involve genes from mesophilic methanogenic euryarchaeota related to Methanosarcinales. We hypothesise that the acquisition of genes from mesophilic bacteria and euryarchaeota has played a major role in the adaptation of Group I crenarchaeota to life at lower temperatures.