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Recent ground-breaking studies show the existence of widely distributed groups of novel Archaea that are potentially involved in methane metabolism (methanogenesis and methanotrophy) (Evans et al. 2015; Vanwonterghem et al. 2016). Additionally, archaeal lineages have been discovered with similar gene complements to methanogens and methanotrophs, but appear to have metabolisms associated with the oxidation of longer chain alkanes rather than methane (Laso-Pérez et al. 2016).
Many of these novel methane or alkane metabolising archaea are found in hydrothermal vents, coal seams, hydrocarbon seeps or industrial waste streams that are hydrocarbon rich, suggesting a dependence of these species on carbon compounds. However, growth requirements and the impact these species have on the carbon cycle remains unknown. Together these results suggest a novel metabolism that remains elusive and indicates a possible earlier evolutionary origin for the machinery associated with traditional methane metabolism.
In this project, the aims are:
1) Identify unknown archaea associated with methane or alkane metabolism using genomic, metagenomic and biochemical techniques.
2) Characterise these species through a combination of molecular and cultivation techniques.
Overall, the study of these novel alkane metabolising archaea will lead to a greater understanding of how these species contribute to global carbon cycling and identify the evolutionary relationships within existing archaeal lineages.
Evans P, Parks D, Chadwick G, Robbins S, Orphan V, Golding S, et al. (2015). Methane metabolism in the archaeal phylum Bathyarchaeota revealed by genome-centric metagenomics. Science 350:434–438.
Laso-Pérez R, Wegener G, Knittel K, Widdel F, Harding KJ, Krukenberg V, et al. (2016). Thermophilic archaea activate butane via alkyl-coenzyme M formation. Nature 539:396–401.
Vanwonterghem I, Evans PN, Parks DH, Jensen PD, Woodcroft BJ, Hugenholtz P, et al. (2016). Methylotrophic methanogenesis discovered in the archaeal phylum Verstraetearchaeota. Nat Microbiol 1:16170.