Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Anja Spang

Tenure track Scientist
Phone number
+31 (0)222 369 526
Location
Texel
Function
Tenure track Scientist

Expertise

  • Microbial ecology
  • Molecular evolution
  • Archaeal genomics, metabolism and evolution
  • Microbial symbiosis and Eukaryogenesis
  • Metagenomics, comparative genomics and phylogenomics

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Research interests

I have always been fascinated by the evolution of life on Earth, eukaryogenesis and the role symbiosis has played in the major transitions of life. My past research on Archaea in has been driven by the aim of getting a better understanding of the diversity and genomic potential of Archaea and their relationship to Bacteria and eukaryotes. For example, during the past years, my post-doctoral research in the lab of Thijs Ettema at Uppsala University (see links below), focused on the investigation of Lokiarchaeota (Spang et al., 2015) and related lineages, which together comprise the Asgard superphylum and have proven to be key for our understanding of eukaryogenesis (Zaremba-Niedzwiedzka et al., 2017). We could show that Asgard archaea form a monophyletic group with Eukaryotes and encode various eukaryotic signature proteins, suggesting that they have been important in the early stages of the origin of the eukaryotic cell (Spang et al., 2015, Zaremba et al., 2017, Spang et al., 2017, Eme et al., 2017). In collaboration with the Ettema lab, which is focusing on further extending the current understanding of the evolution of eukaryotes, we seek to elucidate the metabolic potential of the Asgard superphylum.

With my research team at NIOZ, I will address fundamental questions on the metabolic diversity and evolution of archaea in little explored oceanic environments as well as on the extend, functional importance and evolution of archaeal symbiosis and syntrophies. For this, we use a combination of different approaches such as metagenomics, phylogenomics and comparative genomics as well as microbial ecology techniques and cultivation.

I) Provide insights into the biology and evolution of archaea affiliating with the tentative DPANN superphylum, a group of archaea recently discovered using metagenomics approaches (Rinke et al., 2013; Castelle et al., 2015).

DPANN archaea comprise members with extremely small genomes and cell sizes and include the so far only known parasites within the archaea. Representatives of this extremely diverse group seem to be widespread globally and occur in most thinkable environments on Earth. Interestingly, genomes of various and phylogenetically diverse DPANN archaea have also been reconstructed from marine sediments and water samples. However, thus far the function and importance of DPANN archaea in marine ecosystems and food webs is unknown. In addition, while initial analyses suggest that many members of the DPANN are dependent on syntrophic or symbiotic interactions with other organisms, knowledge about the nature of these interactions as well as the metabolic potential of these organisms is scarce. Finally, the evolution of DPANN lineages and their phylogenetic placement is currently unclear (Petitjean et al., 2014; Raymann et al., 2015; Williams et al., 2017).

II) Shed more light onto the evolution of metabolic diversity and co-occurrence of little investigated but extremely diverse and abundant archaeal lineages in marine environments such as for example Thalassoarchaea and Bathyarchaeota (reviewed in Adam et al., 2017 and Spang et al., 2017).

Recent literature has suggested that both of these taxa are phylogenetically and metabolically extremely diverse and may even include methanogenic and/or short-chain hydrocarbon degrading members (Evans et al., 2015; Laso-Perez et al., 2016; Spang et al., 2017). Yet, very little is known about the functional potential and niche specialization of these lineages and their interactions (including potential syntrophic or symbiotic associations) with other community members.

III) Provide novel insights into the early diversification of archaeal metabolic and enzymatic diversity.

The origin and evolution of important metabolic features of Archaea is poorly understood and recent metagenomic studies have indicated that our view on the role of Archaea in biogeochemical cycles is extremely biased towards cultivated representatives. The available metagenome data represents a gold mine to deepend our insights into the evolution of methanogenesis/ methane oxidation, hydrogen-based metabolisms, autorophic carbon fixation pathways and hydrocarbon degradation and will allow to generate testable hypothesis on the functional role of the various archaeal lineages and their biotechnological potential.


Education & research experience

Since September 2017: Tenure track researcher at NIOZ, Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (80%) &
VR-funded researcher at Uppsala University, Department of Cell- and Molecular Biology (20%)

5/2013-8/2017: Postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Cell- and Molecular Biology, Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University, Sweden; Group Leader: Dr. Thijs Ettema
Main topics: Archaeal roots of Eukaryotes, Comparative genomics of (Asgard) archaea

1/2009-5/2013: PhD studies in microbial comparative genomics in the Department of Genetics in Ecology at the University of Vienna (Austria)
Topic: Genome Analyses and Comparative Genomics of Thaumarchaeota

2007-2008: Master studies in microbial genomics, University of Bergen (Norway);                                             Topic: Metagenomics of archaeal viruses from Icelandic hot springs


Grants/Fellowships

January 2017: NWO Women In Science Excel (WISE) tenure track award providing five years of funding for establishing an independent research group

December 2016: Tenure  track position at NIOZ, Netherlands Institute for Sea Research,

November 2016: VR starting grant from the Swedish Research council (Vetenskapsrådet) (duration: four years)

December 2013: Marie-Curie Intra-European Fellowship by the European Commission (duration: two years, starting date autumn 2014)

December 2013:  Award of Excellence 2013 for my PhD thesis from the Austrian Minister of Science and Research

2010-2012: Two years of research funded by a DOC-fFORTE fellowship from the Austrian Academy of Sciences


Publications:

Google scholar


Contact me:

email: anja.spang@nioz.nl or anja.spang@icm.uu.se
twitter: anjspa1

 

Links:

http://www.ettemalab.org
http://www.ettemalab.org/anja-spang/
http://katalog.uu.se/empInfo/?languageId=1&id=N13-996

Linked news

Friday 20 January 2017
WISE-award for Anja Spang to dive into novel micro-world of Archaea
Very recent genomic research has shown that a group of novel “marvel” Archaea are the most likely evolutionary ancestors of all higher plants and animals. Dr. Anja Spang pursued this research in the team of Thijs Ettema in Sweden, after her cum laude…

NIOZ publications