Expanding Asgard members in the domain of Archaea sheds new light on the origin of eukaryotes


The hypothesis that eukaryotes originated from within the domain Archaea has been strongly supported by recent phylogenomic analyses placing Heimdallarchaeota-Wukongarchaeota branch from the Asgard superphylum as the closest known archaeal sister-group to eukaryotes. However, our understanding is still limited in terms of the relationship between eukaryotes and archaea, as well as the evolution and ecological functions of the Asgard archaea. Here, we describe three previously unknown phylum-level Asgard archaeal lineages, tentatively named Sigyn-, Freyr- and Njordarchaeota. Additional members in Wukongarchaeota and Baldrarchaeota from distinct environments are also reported here, further expanding their ecological roles and metabolic capacities. Comprehensive phylogenomic analyses further supported the origin of eukaryotes within Asgard archaea and a new lineage Njordarchaeota was supposed as the known closest branch with the eukaryotic nuclear host lineage. Metabolic reconstruction suggests that Njordarchaeota may have a heterotrophic lifestyle with capability of peptides and amino acids utilization, while Sigynarchaeota and Freyrarchaeota also have the potentials to fix inorganic carbon via the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway and degrade organic matters. Additionally, the Ack/Pta pathway for homoacetogenesis and de novo anaerobic cobalamin biosynthesis pathway were found in Freyrarchaeota and Wukongrarchaeota, respectively. Some previously unidentified eukaryotic signature proteins for intracellular membrane trafficking system, and the homologue of mu/sigma subunit of adaptor protein complex, were identified in Freyrarchaeota. This study expands the Asgard superphylum, sheds new light on the evolution of eukaryotes and improves our understanding of ecological functions of the Asgard archaea.

(Authors: Ruize Xie, Yinzhao Wang, Danyue Huang, Jialin Hou, Liuyang Li, Haining Hu, Xiaoxiao Zhao, Fengping Wang)