Thaumarchaeota range among the most abundant archaea on Earth. Initially classified as 'mesophilic Crenarchaeota', comparative genomics has recently revealed that they form a separate and deep-branching phylum within the Archaea. This novel phylum comprises in 16S rRNA gene trees not only all known archaeal ammonia oxidizers but also several clusters of environmental sequences representing microorganisms with unknown energy metabolism. Ecophysiological studies of ammonia-oxidizing Thaumarchaeota suggest adaptation to low ammonia concentrations and an autotrophic or possibly mixotrophic lifestyle. Extrapolating from the wide substrate range of copper-containing membrane-bound monooxygenases, to which the thaumarchaeal ammonia monooxygenases belong, the use of substrates other than ammonia for generating energy by some members of the Thaumarchaeota seems likely.
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