Archaea are environmentally ubiquitous on Earth, and their extremophilic and metabolically versatile phenotypes make them useful as model systems for astrobiology. Here, we reveal a new functional group of halo(natrono)archaea able to utilize alpha-d-glucans (amylopectin, amylose and glycogen), sugars, and glycerol as electron donors and carbon sources for sulfur respiration. They are facultative anaerobes enriched from hypersaline sediments with either amylopectin, glucose or glycerol as electron/carbon sources and elemental sulfur as the terminal electron acceptor. They include 10 strains of neutrophilic haloarchaea from circum pH-neutral lakes and one natronoarchaeon from soda-lake sediments. The neutrophilic isolates can grow by fermentation, although addition of S0 or dimethyl sulfoxide increased growth rate and biomass yield (with a concomitant decrease in H2). Natronoarchaeal isolate AArc-S grew only by respiration, either anaerobically with S0 or thiosulfate as the terminal electron acceptor, or aerobically. Through genome analysis of five representative strains, we detected the full set of enzymes required for the observed catabolic and respiratory phenotypes. These findings provide evidence that sulfur-respiring haloarchaea partake in biogeochemical sulfur cycling, linked to terminal anaerobic carbon mineralization in hypersaline anoxic habitats. We discuss the implications for life detection in analogue environments such as the polar subglacial brine-lakes of Mars.
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics