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Microbiol Rev. 1993 March; 57(1): 164–182.
PMCID: PMC372904

Ether polar lipids of methanogenic bacteria: structures, comparative aspects, and biosyntheses.


Complete structures of nearly 40 ether polar lipids from seven species of methanogens have been elucidated during the past 10 years. Three kinds of variations of core lipids, macrocyclic archaeol and two hydroxyarchaeols, were identified, in addition to the usual archaeol and caldarchaeol (for the nomenclature of archaeal [archaebacterial] ether lipids, see the text). Polar head groups of methanogen phospholipids include ethanolamine, serine, inositol, N-acetylglucosamine, dimethyl- and trimethylaminopentanetetrol, and glucosaminylinositol. Glucose is the sole hexose moiety of glycolipids in most methanogens, and galactose and mannose have been found in a few species. Methanogen lipids are characterized by their diversity in phosphate-containing polar head groups and core lipids, which in turn can be used for chemotaxonomy of methanogens. This was shown by preliminary simplified analyses of lipid component residues. Core lipid analysis by high-pressure liquid chromatography provides a method of determining the methanogenic biomass in natural samples. There has been significant progress in the biosynthetic studies of methanogen lipids in recent years. In vivo incorporation experiments have led to delineation of the outline of the synthetic route of the diphytanylglycerol ether core. The mechanisms of biosynthesis of tetraether lipids and various polar lipids, and cell-free systems of either lipid synthesis, however, remain to be elucidated. The significance and the origin of archaeal ether lipids is discussed in terms of the lipid composition of bacteria living in a wide variety of environments, the oxygen requirement for biosynthesis of hydrocarbon chains, and the physicochemical properties and functions of lipids as membrane constituents.

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