A Methanotrophic Marine Molluscan (Bivalvia, Mytilidae) Symbiosis: Mussels Fueled by Gas

+ See all authors and affiliations

Science  19 Sep 1986:
Vol. 233, Issue 4770, pp. 1306-1308
DOI: 10.1126/science.233.4770.1306


An undescribed mussel (family Mytilidae), which lives in the vicinity of hydrocarbon seeps in the Gulf of Mexico, consumes methane (the principal component of natural gas) at a high rate. The methane consumption is limited to the gills of these animals and is apparently due to the abundant intracellular bacteria found there. This demonstrates a methane-based symbiosis between an animal and intracellular bacteria. Methane consumption is dependent on the availability of oxygen and is inhibited by acetylene. The consumption of methane by these mussels is associated with a dramatic increase in oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production. As the methane consumption of the bivalve can exceed its carbon dioxide production, the symbiosis may be able to entirely satisfy its carbon needs from methane uptake. The very light (δ13C = -51 to -57 per mil) stable carbon isotope ratios found in this animal support methane (δ13C = -45 per mil at this site) as the primary carbon source for both the mussels and their symbionts.

Related Content