Archaea-First and the Co-Evolutionary Diversification of Domains of Life

James T. Staley, Gustavo Caetano-Anollés

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The origins and evolution of the Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya remain controversial. Phylogenomic-wide studies of molecular features that are evolutionarily conserved, such as protein structural domains, suggest Archaea is the first domain of life to diversify from a stem line of descent. This line embodies the last universal common ancestor of cellular life. Here, we propose that ancestors of Euryarchaeota co-evolved with those of Bacteria prior to the diversification of Eukarya. This co-evolutionary scenario is supported by comparative genomic and phylogenomic analyses of the distributions of fold families of domains in the proteomes of free-living organisms, which show horizontal gene recruitments and informational process homologies. It also benefits from the molecular study of cell physiologies responsible for membrane phospholipids, methanogenesis, methane oxidation, cell division, gas vesicles, and the cell wall. Our theory however challenges popular cell fusion and two-domain of life scenarios derived from sequence analysis, demanding phylogenetic reconciliation. Also see the video abstract here:

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1800036
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • Crenarchaeota
  • Euryarchaota
  • fold families
  • horizontal transfer
  • molecular evolution
  • protein structure
  • stem line

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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