Methanogenic and methanotrophic archaea play important roles in the global flux of methane. Culture-independent approaches are providing deeper insight into the diversity and evolution of methane-metabolizing microorganisms, but, until now, no compelling evidence has existed for methane metabolism in archaea outside the phylum Euryarchaeota. We performed metagenomic sequencing of a deep aquifer, recovering two near-complete genomes belonging to the archaeal phylum Bathyarchaeota (formerly known as the Miscellaneous Crenarchaeotal Group). These genomes contain divergent homologs of the genes necessary for methane metabolism, including those that encode the methyl-coenzyme M reductase (MCR) complex. Additional non-euryarchaeotal MCR-encoding genes identified in a range of environments suggest that unrecognized archaeal lineages may also contribute to global methane cycling. These findings indicate that methane metabolism arose before the last common ancestor of the Euryarchaeota and Bathyarchaeota.
Copyright © 2015, American Association for the Advancement of Science.