Archaea are traditionally thought of as “extremophiles,” but recent studies have shown that marine planktonic Archaea make up a surprisingly large percentage of ocean midwater microbial communities, up to 60% of the total prokaryotes. However, the basic physiology and contribution of Archaea to community microbial activity remain unknown. We have studied Archaea from 200-m depths of the northwest Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean near California, measuring the archaeal activity under simulated natural conditions (8 to 17°C, dark and anaerobic) by means of a method called substrate tracking autoradiography fluorescence in situ hybridization (STARFISH) that simultaneously detects specific cell types by 16S rRNA probe binding and activity by microautoradiography. In the 200-m-deep Mediterranean and Pacific samples, cells binding the archaeal probes made up about 43 and 14% of the total countable cells, respectively. Our results showed that the Archaea are active in the uptake of dissolved amino acids from natural concentrations (nanomolar) with about 60% of the individuals in the archaeal communities showing measurable uptake. Bacteria showed a similar proportion of active cells. We concluded that a portion of these Archaea is heterotrophic and also appears to coexist successfully with Bacteria in the same water.
Ouverney, Cleber C. and Fuhrman, Jed A., "Marine Planktonic Archaea Take Up Amino Acids" (2000). Faculty Publications. Paper 8.