Ammonia-oxidising archaea (AOA) form a phylogenetic group within the phylum Thaumarchaeota and are of ecological significance due to their role in nitrification, an important biogeochemical process. Previous research has provided information on their ecosystem role and potential physiological characteristics, for example, through analyses of their environmental distribution, ecological adaptation and evolutionary history. However, most AOA diversity, assessed using several environmental marker genes, is not represented in laboratory cultures, with consequent gaps in knowledge of their physiology and evolution. The present study critically reviews existing and developing approaches for the assessment of AOA function and diversity and their potential to provide a deeper understanding of these ecologically important, but understudied microorganisms.

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