|Phyla* & classes|
|* Or kingdom (see text)|
Archaea differ from the true bacteria in many important respects, as well as from the eukaryotes. These differences include:
- wall structures and chemistry (lack of peptidoglycan and gram staining)
- lipidic membrane structure (their lipid bilayers consist of branched chain hydrocarbons linked by ether linkages to glycerol
- metabolism (methanogens, sulfate reducers...)
They show a great diversity in multiplication modes, which may be by binary fission, budding or fragmentation. For a nutrional point of view, they range from being chemolithoautotrophic to organotrophic. Physiologically, they can be aerobic, facultatively anaerobic, or stricly anaerobic. Some are mesophiles, others hyperthermophiles (may live over 100°C). Though most of them live in high-temperature, anaerobic, hypersaline environment, some have also been found in cold places. They are mostly found in aquatic and terrestrial habitats, but a few have been found in animal digestive systems. The environmental conditions archaea prefer and their unusual biochemistry make them usually harmless to organisms belonging to the other two domains. No case of infection of a human with archaea has been reported so far.
There are two main groups of Archaea, the Crenarchaeota and Euryarchaeota. The Korarchaeota have been described from DNA samples, but the actual organisms remain unknown, and the Nanoarchaeota are known from a single species discovered in 2002, Nanoarchaeum equitum. Some work suggests that the Euryarchaeota may be closer to the eukaryotes than the Crenarchaeota, in which case the domain Archaea would be abandoned. Microbiologists who consider the Bacteria to be paraphyletic also argue that the Archaea are not sufficiently different to be considered a separate group.