A methylotrophic origin of methanogenesis and early divergence of anaerobic multi-carbon alkane metabolism


Methanogens are considered as one of the earliest life forms on Earth, and together with anaerobic methane-oxidizing archaea, they have crucial effects on climate stability. However, the origin and evolution of anaerobic alkane metabolism in the domain Archaea remain controversial. Here, we present evidence that methylotrophic methanogenesis was the ancestral form of this metabolism. Carbon dioxide–reducing methanogenesis developed later through the evolution of tetrahydromethanopterin S-methyltransferase, which linked methanogenesis to the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway for energy conservation. Anaerobic multicarbon alkane metabolisms in Archaea also originated early, with genes coding for the activation of short-chain or even long-chain alkanes likely evolving from an ethane-metabolizing ancestor. These genes were likely horizontally transferred to multiple archaeal clades including Candidatus (Ca.) Bathyarchaeia, Ca. Lokiarchaeia, Ca. Hadarchaeia, and the methanogenic Ca. Methanoliparia.

(Authors: Yinzhao Wang, Gunter Wegener, Tom A. Williams, Ruize Xie, Jialin Hou, Chen Tian, Yu Zhang, Fengping Wang, Xiang Xiao)