Methanogen

Methanogen

Overview

Methanogens are microorganisms that produce methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 as a metabolic byproduct in anoxic
Hypoxia (environmental)
Hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, is a phenomenon that occurs in aquatic environments as dissolved oxygen becomes reduced in concentration to a point where it becomes detrimental to aquatic organisms living in the system...

 conditions. They are classified as archaea
Archaea
The Archaea are a group of single-celled microorganisms. A single individual or species from this domain is called an archaeon...

, a group quite distinct from bacteria. They are common in wetlands, where they are responsible for marsh gas, and in the guts of animals such as ruminant
Ruminant
A ruminant is a mammal of the order Artiodactyla that digests plant-based food by initially softening it within the animal's first compartment of the stomach, principally through bacterial actions, then regurgitating the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, and chewing it again...

s and humans, where they are responsible for the methane content of belching in ruminants and flatulence
Flatulence
Flatulence is the expulsion through the rectum of a mixture of gases that are byproducts of the digestion process of mammals and other animals. The medical term for the mixture of gases is flatus, informally known as a fart, or simply gas...

 in humans.
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Methanogens are microorganisms that produce methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 as a metabolic byproduct in anoxic
Hypoxia (environmental)
Hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, is a phenomenon that occurs in aquatic environments as dissolved oxygen becomes reduced in concentration to a point where it becomes detrimental to aquatic organisms living in the system...

 conditions. They are classified as archaea
Archaea
The Archaea are a group of single-celled microorganisms. A single individual or species from this domain is called an archaeon...

, a group quite distinct from bacteria. They are common in wetlands, where they are responsible for marsh gas, and in the guts of animals such as ruminant
Ruminant
A ruminant is a mammal of the order Artiodactyla that digests plant-based food by initially softening it within the animal's first compartment of the stomach, principally through bacterial actions, then regurgitating the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, and chewing it again...

s and humans, where they are responsible for the methane content of belching in ruminants and flatulence
Flatulence
Flatulence is the expulsion through the rectum of a mixture of gases that are byproducts of the digestion process of mammals and other animals. The medical term for the mixture of gases is flatus, informally known as a fart, or simply gas...

 in humans. In marine
Marine (ocean)
Marine is an umbrella term. As an adjective it is usually applicable to things relating to the sea or ocean, such as marine biology, marine ecology and marine geology...

 sediment
Sediment
Sediment is naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently transported by the action of fluids such as wind, water, or ice, and/or by the force of gravity acting on the particle itself....

s biomethanation is generally confined to where sulfate
Sulfate
In inorganic chemistry, a sulfate is a salt of sulfuric acid.-Chemical properties:...

s are depleted, below the top layers. Others are extremophile
Extremophile
An extremophile is an organism that thrives in physically or geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to most life on Earth. In contrast, organisms that live in more moderate environments may be termed mesophiles or neutrophiles...

s, found in environments such as hot spring
Hot spring
A hot spring is a spring that is produced by the emergence of geothermally heated groundwater from the Earth's crust. There are geothermal hot springs in many locations all over the crust of the earth.-Definitions:...

s and submarine hydrothermal vents as well as in the "solid" rock of the Earth's crust, kilometers below the surface. Not to be confused with methanotrophs
Methanotroph
Methanotrophs are bacteria that are able to metabolize methane as their only source of carbon and energy. They can grow aerobically or anaerobically and require single-carbon compounds to survive...

 which rather consume methane for its carbon and energy requirements.

Physical description


Methanogens are usually coccoid (spherical) or bacilli (rod shaped). There are over 50 described species of methanogens, which do not form a monophyletic group, although all methanogens belong to Archaea
Archaea
The Archaea are a group of single-celled microorganisms. A single individual or species from this domain is called an archaeon...

. Methanogens are also anaerobic
Anaerobic organism
An anaerobic organism or anaerobe is any organism that does not require oxygen for growth. It could possibly react negatively and may even die if oxygen is present...

.

Although methanogens cannot function under aerobic conditions they can sustain oxygen stresses for a prolonged time. Methanosarcina barkeri is exceptional in possessing a superoxide dismutase
Superoxide dismutase
Superoxide dismutases are a class of enzymes that catalyze the dismutation of superoxide into oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. As such, they are an important antioxidant defense in nearly all cells exposed to oxygen...

 (SOD) enzyme, and may survive longer than the others.

Some methanogens, called hydrogenotrophic, use carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 (CO2) as a source of carbon, and hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 as a reducing agent. Some of the CO2 is reacted with the hydrogen to produce methane, which produces an electrochemical gradient
Electrochemical gradient
An electrochemical gradient is a spatial variation of both electrical potential and chemical concentration across a membrane; that is, a combination of the membrane potential and the pH gradient...

 across a membrane, used to generate ATP
Adenosine triphosphate
Adenosine-5'-triphosphate is a multifunctional nucleoside triphosphate used in cells as a coenzyme. It is often called the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer. ATP transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism...

 through chemiosmosis
Chemiosmosis
Chemiosmosis is the movement of ions across a selectively permeable membrane, down their electrochemical gradient. More specifically, it relates to the generation of ATP by the movement of hydrogen ions across a membrane during cellular respiration....

. In contrast, plants and algae use water as their reducing agent.

Methanogens lack peptidoglycan
Peptidoglycan
Peptidoglycan, also known as murein, is a polymer consisting of sugars and amino acids that forms a mesh-like layer outside the plasma membrane of bacteria , forming the cell wall. The sugar component consists of alternating residues of β- linked N-acetylglucosamine and N-acetylmuramic acid...

, a polymer that is found in the cell walls of the Bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

 but not Archaea. Some methanogens have a cell wall that is composed of pseudopeptidoglycan
Pseudopeptidoglycan
Pseudopeptidoglycan is a major cell wall component of some archaea that differs from bacterial peptidoglycan in chemical structure, but resembles eubacterial peptidoglycan in morphology, function, and physical structure...

. Other methanogens do not, but have at least one paracrystalline array (S-layer) made up of proteins that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle
Jigsaw puzzle
A jigsaw puzzle is a tiling puzzle that requires the assembly of numerous small, often oddly shaped, interlocking and tessellating pieces.Each piece usually has a small part of a picture on it; when complete, a jigsaw puzzle produces a complete picture...

.

Methanogens and (extreme) environments


Although most marine biogenic methane is the result of carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 (CO2) reduction, a small amount is derived from acetate
Acetate
An acetate is a derivative of acetic acid. This term includes salts and esters, as well as the anion found in solution. Most of the approximately 5 billion kilograms of acetic acid produced annually in industry are used in the production of acetates, which usually take the form of polymers. In...

 (CH3COO-). Archaea that catabolize this for energy are referred to as acetotrophic or aceticlastic. Methylotrophic archaea utilize methylated compounds such as methylamine
Methylamine
Methylamine is the organic compound with a formula of CH3NH2. This colourless gas is a derivative of ammonia, but with one H atom replaced by a methyl group. It is the simplest primary amine. It is sold as a solution in methanol, ethanol, THF, and water, or as the anhydrous gas in pressurized...

s, methanol
Methanol
Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is a chemical with the formula CH3OH . It is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive odor very similar to, but slightly sweeter than, ethanol...

, and methanethiol
Methanethiol
Methanethiol is a colorless gas with a smell like rotten cabbage. It is a natural substance found in the blood and brain of humans and other animal as well as plant tissues. It is disposed of through animal feces. It occurs naturally in certain foods, such as some nuts and cheese...

 as well.

Methanogens play the vital ecological role in anaerobic environments
Hypoxia (environmental)
Hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, is a phenomenon that occurs in aquatic environments as dissolved oxygen becomes reduced in concentration to a point where it becomes detrimental to aquatic organisms living in the system...

 of removing excess hydrogen and fermentation products that have been produced by other forms of anaerobic respiration
Anaerobic respiration
Anaerobic respiration is a form of respiration using electron acceptors other than oxygen. Although oxygen is not used as the final electron acceptor, the process still uses a respiratory electron transport chain; it is respiration without oxygen...

. Methanogens typically thrive in environments in which all electron acceptor
Electron acceptor
An electron acceptor is a chemical entity that accepts electrons transferred to it from another compound. It is an oxidizing agent that, by virtue of its accepting electrons, is itself reduced in the process....

s other than CO2 (such as oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

, nitrate
Nitrate
The nitrate ion is a polyatomic ion with the molecular formula NO and a molecular mass of 62.0049 g/mol. It is the conjugate base of nitric acid, consisting of one central nitrogen atom surrounded by three identically-bonded oxygen atoms in a trigonal planar arrangement. The nitrate ion carries a...

, sulfate
Sulfate
In inorganic chemistry, a sulfate is a salt of sulfuric acid.-Chemical properties:...

, and trivalent iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

) have been depleted. In the deep rock they obtain their hydrogen from the thermal and radioactive breakdown of water.

Methanogens are key agents of remineralization of organic carbon in continental margin sediments and other aquatic sediments with high rates of sedimentation and high sediment organic matter. Under the correct conditions of pressure and temperature, biogenic methane can accumulate in massive deposits of methane clathrates, which account for a significant fraction of organic carbon in continental margin sediments and represent a key reservoir of a potent greenhouse gas.

Methanogens have been found in several extreme environments on Earth - buried under kilometres of ice in Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

 and living in hot, dry desert soil. They can reproduce at temperatures of 15 to 100 degrees Celsius. They are known to be the most common archaebacteria in deep subteranean habitats. Live microbes making methane were found in a glacial ice core sample retrieved from three kilometres under Greenland by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

.

Another study has also discovered methanogens in a harsh environment on Earth. Researchers studied dozens of soil and vapour samples from five different desert environments in Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

, Idaho
Idaho
Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

 and California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, and in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and Chile
Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

. Of these, five soil samples and three vapour samples from the vicinity of the Mars Desert Research Station
Mars Desert Research Station
The Mars Desert Research Station is the second of four planned simulated Mars surface exploration habitats owned and operated by the Mars Society.-Background:...

 in Utah were found to have signs of viable methanogens.

Some scientists have proposed that the presence of methane in the Martian
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 atmosphere may be indicative of native methanogens on that planet.

Closely related to the methanogens are the anaerobic methane oxidizers, which utilize methane as a substrate in conjunction with the reduction of sulfate and nitrate. Most methanogens are autotrophic producers, but those that oxidize CH3COO- are classed as Chemotroph
Chemotroph
Chemotrophs are organisms that obtain energy by the oxidation of electron donors in their environments. These molecules can be organic or inorganic . The chemotroph designation is in contrast to phototrophs, which utilize solar energy...

 instead.

Strains of methanogens

  • Methanobacterium bryantii
  • Methanobacterium formicum
  • Methanobrevibacter arboriphilicus
  • Methanobrevibacter gottschalkii
  • Methanobrevibacter ruminantium
  • Methanobrevibacter smithii
    Methanobrevibacter smithii
    Methanobrevibacter smithii is the dominant archaeon in the human gut. It is important for the efficient digestion of polysaccharides because it consumes end products of bacterial fermentation. Methanobrevibacter smithii is a single-celled micro-organism from the Archaea domain. M...

  • Methanocalculus chunghsingensis
  • Methanococcoides burtonii
  • Methanococcus aeolicus
  • Methanococcus deltae
  • Methanococcus jannaschii
  • Methanococcus maripaludis
  • Methanococcus vannielii
  • Methanocorpusculum labreanum
  • Methanoculleus bourgensis (Methanogenium olentangyi & Methanogenium bourgense)
  • Methanoculleus marisnigri
  • Methanofollis liminatans
  • Methanogenium cariaci
  • Methanogenium frigidum
  • Methanogenium organophilum
  • Methanogenium wolfei
  • Methanomicrobium mobile
  • Methanopyrus kandleri
  • Methanoregula boonei
  • Methanosaeta concilii
  • Methanosaeta thermophila
  • Methanosarcina acetivorans
    Methanosarcina acetivorans
    Methanosarcina acetivorans is a versatile methane producing microbe which is found in such diverse environments as oil wells, trash dumps, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and oxygen-depleted sediments beneath kelp beds. Only M. acetivorans and microbes in the genus Methanosarcina use all three known...

  • Methanosarcina barkeri
  • Methanosarcina mazei
  • Methanosphaera stadtmanae
  • Methanospirillium hungatei
  • Methanothermobacter defluvii (Methanobacterium defluvii)
  • Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus (Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum)
  • Methanothermobacter thermoflexus (Methanobacterium thermoflexum)
  • Methanothermobacter wolfei (Methanobacterium wolfei)
  • Methanothrix sochngenii