Link to DOI – https://doi.org/10.1038/s43705-021-00050-y
Thomas, C.M., Taib, N., Gribaldo, S. et al. Comparative genomic analysis of Methanimicrococcus blatticola provides insights into host adaptation in archaea and the evolution of methanogenesis. ISME COMMUN. 1, 47 (2021).
Other than the Methanobacteriales and Methanomassiliicoccales, the characteristics of archaea that inhabit the animal microbiome are largely unknown. Methanimicrococcus blatticola, a member of the Methanosarcinales, currently reunites two unique features within this order: it is a colonizer of the animal digestive tract and can only reduce methyl compounds with H2 for methanogenesis, a increasingly recognized metabolism in the archaea and whose origin remains debated. To understand the origin of these characteristics, we have carried out a large-scale comparative genomic analysis. We infer the loss of more than a thousand genes in M. blatticola, by far the largest genome reduction across all Methanosarcinales. These include numerous elements for sensing the environment and adapting to more stable gut conditions, as well as a significant remodeling of the cell surface components likely involved in host and gut microbiota interactions. Several of these modifications parallel those previously observed in phylogenetically distant archaea and bacteria from the animal microbiome, suggesting large-scale convergent mechanisms of adaptation to the gut. Strikingly, M. blatticola has lost almost all genes coding for the H4MPT methyl branch of the Wood–Ljungdahl pathway (to the exception of mer), a phenomenon never reported before in any member of Class I or Class II methanogens. The loss of this pathway illustrates one of the evolutionary processes that may have led to the emergence of methyl-reducing hydrogenotrophic methanogens, possibly linked to the colonization of organic-rich environments (including the animal gut) where both methyl compounds and hydrogen are abundant.