Physiological and genomic characterization of thermophilic methanotrophic archaea and partner bacteria

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Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and its atmospheric concentration is strongly influenced by microbial processes. In anoxic marine environments 80% of the methane is oxidized by anaerobic microorganisms leading to reduced oceanic methane emissions. This anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) is coupled to sulfate reduction and is mediated by microbial consortia of anaerobic methane-oxidizing archaea and partner bacteria. The physiology of the consortia is incompletely understood but is thought to base on a metabolic interdependency of the partners, a syntrophy. The research presented in this PhD thesis focused on the physiology and genomic profile of AOM consortia, in particular on the microorganisms that are active at elevated temperatures (thermophiles). The thermophilic AOM is performed by a unique consortium of ANME-1 archaea and HotSeep-1 bacteria. In Chapter II we describe physiological studies and gene expression experiments with thermophilic AOM consortia and propose a syntrophy of AOM via direct exchange of reducing equivalents. In support of this hypothesis we visualized cell-to-cell connections in these consortia that we suggest to function as conductive nanowires in interspecies electron transfer. For the thermophilic bacterial partner, HotSeep-1 we obtained an ANME-1-free enrichment culture using hydrogen as alternative energy source, and by physiological and genomic investigation we show in Chapter III that this bacterial partner grows as chemolithoautotrophic sulfate reducer. Based on phylogenetic analysis we propose that HotSeep-1 presents a novel species, Candidatus Desulfofervidus auxilii. ANME-1, the archaeon participating in thermophilic AOM, belongs to a large group of uncultured organisms, which are known to have reversed the methanogenesis pathway to metabolize methane. The metabolic diversity among members of the ANME-1 group is still widely unexplored. In a comparative genome analysis of different ANME-1 in Chapter IV we show central aspects of their metabolism including a modified methanogenesis pathway and abundant cytochromes possibly relevant for electron transfer. Environments of AOM activity and in vitro AOM enrichments are dominated by AOM consortia, but other microorganisms sustain as low abundant community whose function is not well understood. In Chapter V we show the cultivation of methanogens and sulfur disproportionating bacteria from AOM enrichments. In conclusion the work of this PhD thesis has advanced our understanding of the functioning of thermophilic AOM, while further detailed comparative approaches are necessary to comprehend AOM syntrophy in all its detail and diversity.

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Krukenberg, V. (2015): Physiological and genomic characterization of thermophilic methanotrophic archaea and partner bacteria , PhD thesis, University of Bremen / Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology Bremen.

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