Despite a ubiquitous distribution, the group of microorganisms known as Archaea still remains the most unexplored of life's domains. Among the Archaea, one organism (Nanoarchaeum equitans) is crucial for deciphering the history of the archaeal domain, yet there is only one characterized representative of this group. This heat-loving microbe grows and divides at the surface of another archaeon suggesting an obligate symbiotic, possibly ectoparasitic, lifestyle. The evolutionary placement of this organism is controversial and provides unique problems in taxonomy for training the next generation of microbial taxonomists. The major goal of this project is to clarify the pivotal position of the Nanoarchaetoa in the Tree of Life. This information will greatly expand our understanding of the taxonomy and physiology of this group as well as our understanding of microbial systematics. In addition, the project will provide a unique opportunity to address how a symbiotic versus free-living lifestyle has impacted genome architecture, rate of evolution, and gene acquisition or loss in Archaea.
This project offers research opportunities and training to undergraduates, graduate students, and a post-doctoral research associate in classical and molecular approaches to taxonomy, bioinformatics, phylogenetic analyses, and novel concepts and controversies in modern microbial taxonomy. In addition, the project will provide hands-on experience in microbial taxonomic research to local high school students.