Artificial electron acceptors decouple archaeal methane oxidation from sulfate reduction

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Science  12 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6274, pp. 703-707
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad7154

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Long-term partners uncoupled

Methane-munching archaea in marine sediments live closely coupled to sulfate-reducing bacteria in a syntrophic relationship. Surprisingly, however, these archaea do not necessarily need their bacterial partners to survive or grow. Scheller et al. performed stable isotope incubation experiments with deep-sea methane seep sediments (see the Perspective by Rotaru and Thamdrup). Several groups of methane-oxidizing archaea could use a range of soluble electron acceptors instead of coupling to active bacterial sulfate reduction. This decoupled pathway shows that methane-oxidizing archaea transfer electrons extracellularly and may even possess the capacity to respire iron and manganese minerals that are abundant in seafloor sediments.

Science, this issue p. 703; see also p. 658


The oxidation of methane with sulfate is an important microbial metabolism in the global carbon cycle. In marine methane seeps, this process is mediated by consortia of anaerobic methanotrophic archaea (ANME) that live in syntrophy with sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). The underlying interdependencies within this uncultured symbiotic partnership are poorly understood. We used a combination of rate measurements and single-cell stable isotope probing to demonstrate that ANME in deep-sea sediments can be catabolically and anabolically decoupled from their syntrophic SRB partners using soluble artificial oxidants. The ANME still sustain high rates of methane oxidation in the absence of sulfate as the terminal oxidant, lending support to the hypothesis that interspecies extracellular electron transfer is the syntrophic mechanism for the anaerobic oxidation of methane.

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