Snapshot: Dr. Filipa Sousa

Dr. Filipa Sousa of the University of Vienna in Austria shares her experiences in working with Archaea.
Snapshot: Dr. Filipa Sousa

Name: Dr. Filipa Sousa

Institution: University of Vienna

Location: Vienna, Austria



Tell me a bit about how you came to be interested in Archaea and what your work entails.

I became interested in Archaea during my PhD studies, while working on the biochemical characterization of enzymes from Acidianus ambivalens, an extreme acidophile isolated by Zillig and colleagues from a solfatara mud. It was then that I realized that biology is much more diverse than the one of “model” organisms and I wanted to know more about how all of the extant diversity have unfolded during microbial evolution. At the present, I am using genomic data to explore archaeal diversity and evolution, with special focus on their energy and carbon metabolism. 

Looking back at the last 40 years, what would you describe as the most exciting areas of research linked to the study of the Archaea? And where do you see the field headed in the next decade?

In my perspective, currently the most exciting areas in archaea research are i) the expansion of archaeal taxonomic diversity by the discovery of new and yet-uncultured lineages that thrive in fascinating and unforeseen environments and ii) the role of archaea into eukaryotic evolution.

Regarding the new and exciting lineages that are being discovered mostly by metagenomic approaches, I hope the future brings more than their “name” so we can also find out how they live (their metabolism). In an ideal world, we would have all cultures of all yet-uncultured lineages from all environments. Until then, we must relay on the information coded in their genomes to have insights on what they do for a living.

What would you like the public (and general microbiological audience) to appreciate about Archaea?

Archaea are as old as Bacteria, they are the offspring of a common ancestor, known as Luca, or the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all life forms. Both of these microorganism lineages have been living on our planet for more than 3,8 billion years, long before us.

Archaeal microorganisms are spread all over the world, from environments as extreme and diverse as in the walls of volcanoes and at the bottom of oceans, in the guts of ruminants and humans, as well as in the soil of any garden. They are no longer just “extremophiles” but microorganisms as diverse as bacteria, still hiding many secrets and surprises for us to discover.

 Archaea are everywhere - examples of a few of their habitats. 

Are there any particular papers that you feel are absolute must reads for those that aren’t necessarily familiar with the field (and briefly, why)?

Woese, C.R. and Fox, G.E. Phylogenetic Structure of the Prokaryotic Domain: The Primary Kingdoms. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 74, 5088–5090 (1977).

The “discovery” of Archaea as a domain, which we are now celebrating 40 years after.   


Thauer, RK. et al. Methanogenic archaea: ecologically relevant differences in energy conservation. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 6, 579-591 (2008).

For the ones interested in methanogenesis and energy metabolism, this Review from Thauer and co-workers is a good starting point to understand how methanogenesis works. 

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