Borgs: giant extrachromosomal elements with the potential to augment methane oxidation

November 17, 2021




Basem Al-Shayeb, NSF Graduate Research Fellow
Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, USA


Anaerobic methane oxidation exerts a key control on greenhouse gas emissions, yet factors that modulate the activity of microorganisms performing this function remain little explored. In studying groundwater, sediments, and wetland soil where methane production and oxidation occur, we discovered extraordinarily large, diverse DNA sequences that primarily encode hypothetical proteins. Four curated, complete genomes are linear, up to ~1 Mbp in length and share genome organization, including replicore structure, long inverted terminal repeats, and genome-wide unique perfect tandem direct repeats that are intergenic or generate amino acid repeats.
We infer that these are a new type of archaeal extrachromosomal element with a distinct evolutionary origin. Gene sequence similarity, phylogeny, and local divergence of sequence composition indicate that many of their genes were assimilated from methane-oxidizing Methanoperedens archaea. We refer to these elements as “Borgs”.
We identified at least 19 different Borg types coexisting with Methanoperedens in four distinct ecosystems. Borg genes expand redox and respiratory capacity (e.g., clusters of multiheme cytochromes), ability to respond to changing environmental conditions, and likely augment Methanoperedens capacity for methane oxidation (e.g., methyl coenzyme M reductase). By this process, Borgs could play a previously unrecognized role in controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Useful references

  • Basem Al-Shayeb, Marie C Schoelmerich, Jacob West-Roberts, Luis E. Valentin-Alvarado, Rohan Sachdeva, Susan Mullen, Alexander Crits-Christoph, Michael J. Wilkins, Kenneth H. Williams, Jennifer Doudna, Jillian F. Banfield. 2021. “Borgs are giant extrachromosomal elements with the potential to augment methane oxidation”.
  • Leu, A.O., Cai, C., McIlroy, S.J. et al. Anaerobic methane oxidation coupled to manganese reduction by members of the MethanoperedenaceaeISME J 14,1030–1041 (2020).