The archaeal machinery responsible for DNA replication is largely homologous to that of eukaryotes and is clearly distinct from its bacterial counterpart. Moreover, it shows high diversity in the various archaeal lineages, including different sets of components, heterogeneous taxonomic distribution, and a large number of additional copies that are sometimes highly divergent. This has made the evolutionary history of this cellular system particularly challenging to dissect. Here, we have carried out an exhaustive identification of homologs of all major replication components in over 140 complete archaeal genomes. Phylogenomic analysis allowed assigning them to either a conserved and probably essential core of replication components that were mainly vertically inherited, or to a variable and highly divergent shell of extra copies that have likely arisen from integrative elements. This suggests that replication proteins are frequently exchanged between extrachromosomal elements and cellular genomes. Our study allowed clarifying the history that shaped this key cellular process (ancestral components, horizontal gene transfers, and gene losses), providing important evolutionary and functional information. Finally, our precise identification of core components permitted to show that the phylogenetic signal carried by DNA replication is highly consistent with that harbored by two other key informational machineries (translation and transcription), strengthening the existence of a robust organismal tree for the Archaea.
Keywords: Cdc6/Orc1; DNA gyrase; RPA/SSB; nanosized archaea; phylogeny; primase.