ReportMicrobial Physiology

Methane production from coal by a single methanogen

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Science  14 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6309, pp. 222-225
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8821

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Microbes make methane from coal

Methane associated with coal beds is an important global resource of natural gas. Much of the methane in coal comes from microbial methanogenesis. Mayumi et al. characterized a strain of Methermicoccus shengliensis that, unexpectedly, is capable of making methane from the dozens of methoxylated aromatic compounds found in a variety of coal types (see the Perspective by Welte). Isotope tracer experiments showed that this organism could also incorporate carbon dioxide into methane.

Science, this issue p. 222; see also p. 184


Coal-bed methane is one of the largest unconventional natural gas resources. Although microbial activity may greatly contribute to coal-bed methane formation, it is unclear whether the complex aromatic organic compounds present in coal can be used for methanogenesis. We show that deep subsurface–derived Methermicoccus methanogens can produce methane from more than 30 types of methoxylated aromatic compounds (MACs) as well as from coals containing MACs. In contrast to known methanogenesis pathways involving one- and two-carbon compounds, this “methoxydotrophic” mode of methanogenesis couples O-demethylation, CO2 reduction, and possibly acetyl–coenzyme A metabolism. Because MACs derived from lignin may occur widely in subsurface sediments, methoxydotrophic methanogenesis would play an important role in the formation of natural gas not limited to coal-bed methane and in the global carbon cycle.

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