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1.  Isolation and Characterization of Methanothermobacter crinale sp. nov., a Novel Hydrogenotrophic Methanogen from the Shengli Oil Field▿† 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(15):5212-5219.
Syntrophic acetate oxidation coupled with hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis is an alternative methanogenic pathway in certain thermophilic anaerobic environments such as high-temperature oil reservoirs and thermophilic biogas reactors. In these environments, the dominant thermophilic methanogens were generally related to uncultured organisms of the genus Methanothermobacter. Here we isolated two representative strains, Tm2T and HMD, from the oil sands and oil production water in the Shengli oil field in the People's Republic of China. The type strain, Tm2T, was nonmotile and stained Gram positive. The cells were straight to slightly curved rods (0.3 μm in width and 2.2 to 5.9 μm in length), but some of them possessed a coccal shape connecting with the rods at the ends. Strain Tm2T grew with H2-CO2, but acetate is required. Optimum growth of strain Tm2T occurred in the presence of 0.025 g/liter NaCl at pH 6.9 and a temperature of 65°C. The G+C content of the genomic DNA was 40.1 mol% ± 1.3 mol% (by the thermal denaturation method) or 41.1 mol% (by high-performance liquid chromatography). Analysis of the 16S rRNA gene sequence indicated that Tm2T was most closely related to Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus ΔHT and Methanothermobacter wolfeii VKM B-1829T (both with a sequence similarity of 96.4%). Based on these phenotypic and phylogenic characteristics, a novel species was proposed and named Methanothermobacter crinale sp. nov. The type strain is Tm2T (ACCC 00699T = JCM 17393T).
PMCID: PMC3147489  PMID: 21705537
2.  In vivo activation of methyl-coenzyme M reductase by carbon monoxide 
Methyl-coenzyme M reductase (MCR) from methanogenic archaea catalyzes the rate-limiting and final step in methane biosynthesis. Using coenzyme B as the two-electron donor, MCR reduces methyl-coenzyme M (CH3-SCoM) to methane and the mixed disulfide, CoBS-SCoM. MCR contains an essential redox-active nickel tetrahydrocorphinoid cofactor, Coenzyme F430, at its active site. The active form of the enzyme (MCRred1) contains Ni(I)-F430. Rapid and efficient conversion of MCR to MCRred1 is important for elucidating the enzymatic mechanism, yet this reduction is difficult because the Ni(I) state is subject to oxidative inactivation. Furthermore, no in vitro methods have yet been described to convert Ni(II) forms into MCRred1. Since 1991, it has been known that MCRred1 from Methanothermobacter marburgensis can be generated in vivo when cells are purged with 100% H2. Here we show that purging cells or cell extracts with CO can also activate MCR. The rate of in vivo activation by CO is about 15 times faster than by H2 (130 and 8 min-1, respectively) and CO leads to twofold higher MCRred1 than H2. Unlike H2-dependent activation, which exhibits a 10-h lag time, there is no lag for CO-dependent activation. Based on cyanide inhibition experiments, carbon monoxide dehydrogenase is required for the CO-dependent activation. Formate, which also is a strong reductant, cannot activate MCR in M. marburgensis in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3612591  PMID: 23554601
carbon monoxide; enzyme catalysis; metalloenzymes; nickel; electron transfer; EPR; methanogenesis; enzyme activation
3.  Complete Genome Sequence of Methanothermobacter marburgensis, a Methanoarchaeon Model Organism▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;192(21):5850-5851.
The circular genome sequence of the chemolithoautotrophic euryarchaeon Methanothermobacter marburgensis, with 1,639,135 bp, was determined and compared with that of Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus. The genomes of the two model methanogens differ substantially in protein coding sequences, in insertion sequence (IS)-like elements, and in clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) loci.
PMCID: PMC2953689  PMID: 20802048
4.  A novel cytosolic NADH:quinone oxidoreductase from Methanothermobacter marburgensis 
Bioscience Reports  2014;34(6):e00167.
Methanothermobacter marburgensis is a strictly anaerobic, thermophilic methanogenic archaeon that uses methanogenesis to convert H2 and CO2 to energy. M. marburgensis is one of the best-studied methanogens, and all genes required for methanogenic metabolism have been identified. Nonetheless, the present study describes a gene (Gene ID 9704440) coding for a putative NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase that has not yet been identified as part of the metabolic machinery. The gene product, MmNQO, was successfully expressed, purified and characterized biochemically, as well as structurally. MmNQO was identified as a flavin-dependent NADH:quinone oxidoreductase with the capacity to oxidize NADH in the presence of a wide range of electron acceptors, whereas NADPH was oxidized with only three acceptors. The 1.50 Å crystal structure of MmNQO features a homodimeric enzyme where each monomer comprises 196 residues folding into flavodoxin-like α/β domains with non-covalently bound FMN (flavin mononucleotide). The closest structural homologue is the modulator of drug activity B from Streptococcus mutans with 1.6 Å root-mean-square deviation on 161 Cα atoms and 28% amino-acid sequence identity. The low similarity at sequence and structural level suggests that MmNQO is unique among NADH:quinone oxidoreductases characterized to date. Based on preliminary bioreactor experiments, MmNQO could provide a useful tool to prevent overflow metabolism in applications that require cells with high energy demand.
A novel NADH:quinone oxidoreductase, MmNQO, from Methanothermobacter marburgensis was identified. MmNQO oxidizes NADH with several electron acceptors and is structurally similar to bacterial MdaB. It is localized in the cytosol and may provide a useful tool to prevent overflow metabolism.
PMCID: PMC4274662  PMID: 25372605
crystal structure; cytoplasm; Methanothermobacter marburgensis; NADH regeneration; NADH:quinone oxidoreductase; acetyl-CoA, acetyl coenzyme A; CER, CO2 evolution rate; CV, column volume; DCPIP, 2,6-dichloroindophenol sodium salt hydrate; FMN, flavin mononucleotide; IPTG, isopropyl-β-D-thiogalactopyranoside; MdaB, modulator of drug activity B; PMF, proton motive force; r.m.s.d., root-mean-square deviation; TCA, tricarboxylic acid
5.  Characterization of Alkyl-Nickel Adducts Generated by Reaction of Methyl-Coenzyme M Reductase with Brominated Acids 
Biochemistry  2007;46(42):11969-11978.
Methyl-coenzyme M reductase (MCR) from methanogenic archaea catalyzes the final step in the biological synthesis of methane. Using coenzyme B (CoBSH) as the two-electron donor, MCR reduces methyl-coenzyme M (methyl-SCoM) to methane and the mixed disulfide, CoB-S-S-CoM. MCR contains Coenzyme F430, an essential redox-active nickel tetrahydrocorphin at its active site. The active form of MCR (MCRred1) contains Ni(I)-F430. When 3-bromopropane sulfonate (BPS) is incubated with MCRred1, an alkyl-Ni(III) species is formed that elicits the MCRPS EPR signal. Here we used EPR and UV-visible spectroscopy and transient kinetics to study the reaction between MCR from Methanothermobacter marburgensis and a series of brominated carboxylic acids, with chain lengths from 4 to 16 carbons long. All of these compounds give rise to an alkyl-Ni intermediate with an EPR signal similar to that of the MCRPS species. Reaction of the alkyl-Ni(III) adduct, formed from brominated acids with 8 or less total carbons, with HSCoM as nucleophile at pH 10.0 results in the formation of a thioether coupled to regeneration of the active MCRred1 state. When reacted with 4-bromobutyrate, MCRred1 forms the alkyl-Ni(III) MCRXA state and then, surprisingly, undergoes “self-reactivation” to regenerate the Ni(I) MCRred1 state and a bromocarboxy ester. The results demonstrate an unexpected reactivity and flexibility of the MCR active site to accommodate a broad range of substrates, which act as molecular rulers for the substrate channel in MCR.
PMCID: PMC3553217  PMID: 17902704
6.  Localization of Methyl-Coenzyme M Reductase as Metabolic Marker for Diverse Methanogenic Archaea 
Archaea  2013;2013:920241.
Methyl-Coenzyme M reductase (MCR) as key enzyme for methanogenesis as well as for anaerobic oxidation of methane represents an important metabolic marker for both processes in microbial biofilms. Here, the potential of MCR-specific polyclonal antibodies as metabolic marker in various methanogenic Archaea is shown. For standard growth conditions in laboratory culture, the cytoplasmic localization of the enzyme in Methanothermobacter marburgensis, Methanothermobacter wolfei, Methanococcus maripaludis, Methanosarcina mazei, and in anaerobically methane-oxidizing biofilms is demonstrated. Under growth limiting conditions on nickel-depleted media, at low linear growth of cultures, a fraction of 50–70% of the enzyme was localized close to the cytoplasmic membrane, which implies “facultative” membrane association of the enzyme. This feature may be also useful for assessment of growth-limiting conditions in microbial biofilms.
PMCID: PMC3596918  PMID: 23533332
7.  Coupling of Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus Methane Formation and Growth in Fed-Batch and Continuous Cultures under Different H2 Gassing Regimens▿ †  
In nature, H2- and CO2-utilizing methanogenic archaea have to couple the processes of methanogenesis and autotrophic growth under highly variable conditions with respect to the supply and concentration of their energy source, hydrogen. To study the hydrogen-dependent coupling between methanogenesis and growth, Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus was cultured in a fed-batch fermentor and in a chemostat under different 80% H2-20% CO2 gassing regimens while we continuously monitored the dissolved hydrogen partial pressures (pH2). In the fed-batch system, in which the conditions continuously changed the uptake rates by the growing biomass, the organism displayed a complex and yet defined growth behavior, comprising the consecutive lag, exponential, and linear growth phases. It was found that the in situ hydrogen concentration affected the coupling between methanogenesis and growth in at least two respects. (i) The microorganism could adopt two distinct theoretical maximal growth yields (YCH4 max), notably approximately 3 and 7 g (dry weight) of methane formed mol−1, for growth under low (pH2 < 12 kPa)- and high-hydrogen conditions, respectively. The distinct values can be understood from a theoretical analysis of the process of methanogenesis presented in the supplemental material associated with this study. (ii) The in situ hydrogen concentration affected the “specific maintenance” requirements or, more likely, the degree of proton leakage and proton slippage processes. At low pH2 values, the “specific maintenance” diminished and the specific growth yields approached YCH4 max, indicating that growth and methanogenesis became fully coupled.
PMCID: PMC1800739  PMID: 17142379
8.  Comparative Proteomic Analysis of Methanothermobacter themautotrophicus ΔH in Pure Culture and in Co-Culture with a Butyrate-Oxidizing Bacterium 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e24309.
To understand the physiological basis of methanogenic archaea living on interspecies H2 transfer, the protein expression of a hydrogenotrophic methanogen, Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus strain ΔH, was investigated in both pure culture and syntrophic coculture with an anaerobic butyrate oxidizer Syntrophothermus lipocalidus strain TGB-C1 as an H2 supplier. Comparative proteomic analysis showed that global protein expression of methanogen cells in the model coculture was substantially different from that of pure cultured cells. In brief, in syntrophic coculture, although methanogenesis-driven energy generation appeared to be maintained by shifting the pathway to the alternative methyl coenzyme M reductase isozyme I and cofactor F420-dependent process, the machinery proteins involved in carbon fixation, amino acid synthesis, and RNA/DNA metabolisms tended to be down-regulated, indicating restrained cell growth rather than vigorous proliferation. In addition, our proteome analysis revealed that α subunits of proteasome were differentially acetylated between the two culture conditions. Since the relevant modification has been suspected to regulate proteolytic activity of the proteasome, the global protein turnover rate could be controlled under syntrophic growth conditions. To our knowledge, the present study is the first report on N-acetylation of proteasome subunits in methanogenic archaea. These results clearly indicated that physiological adaptation of hydrogenotrophic methanogens to syntrophic growth is more complicated than that of hitherto proposed.
PMCID: PMC3164167  PMID: 21904627
9.  Differential Expression of Methanogenesis Genes of Methanothermobacter thermoautotrophicus (Formerly Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum) in Pure Culture and in Cocultures with Fatty Acid-Oxidizing Syntrophs 
The expression of genes involved in methanogenesis in a thermophilic hydrogen-utilizing methanogen, Methanothermobacter thermoautotrophicus strain TM, was investigated both in a pure culture sufficiently supplied with H2 plus CO2 and in a coculture with an acetate-oxidizing hydrogen-producing bacterium, Thermacetogenium phaeum strain PB, in which hydrogen partial pressure was constantly kept very low (20 to 80 Pa). Northern blot analysis indicated that only the mcr gene, which encodes methyl coenzyme M reductase I (MRI), catalyzing the final step of methanogenesis, was expressed in the coculture, whereas mcr and mrt, which encodes methyl coenzyme M reductase II (MRII), the isofunctional enzyme of MRI, were expressed at the early to late stage of growth in the pure culture. In contrast to these two genes, two isofunctional genes (mtd and mth) for N5,N10-methylene-tetrahydromethanopterin dehydrogenase, which catalyzes the fourth step of methanogenesis, and two hydrogenase genes (frh and mvh) were expressed both in a pure culture and in a coculture at the early and late stages of growth. The same expression pattern was observed for Methanothermobacter thermoautotrophicus strain ΔH cocultured with a thermophilic butyrate-oxidizing syntroph, Syntrophothermus lipocalidus strain TGB-C1. Two-dimensional sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of whole proteins of M. thermoautotrophicus strain TM obtained from a pure culture and a coculture with the acetate-oxidizing syntroph and subsequent N-terminal amino acid sequence analysis confirmed that MRI and MRII were produced in the pure culture, while only MRI was produced in the coculture. These results indicate that under syntrophic growth conditions, the methanogen preferentially utilizes MRI but not MRII. Considering that hydrogenotrophic methanogens are strictly dependent for growth on hydrogen-producing fermentative microbes in the natural environment and that the hydrogen supply occurs constantly at very low concentrations compared with the supply in pure cultures in the laboratory, the results suggest that MRI is an enzyme primarily functioning in natural methanogenic ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC123741  PMID: 11872465
10.  Specific DNA Binding of a Potential Transcriptional Regulator, Inosine 5′-Monophosphate Dehydrogenase-Related Protein VII, to the Promoter Region of a Methyl Coenzyme M Reductase I-Encoding Operon Retrieved from Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus Strain ΔH▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2008;74(20):6239-6247.
Two methyl coenzyme M reductases (MCRs) encoded by the mcr and mrt operons of the hydrogenotrophic methanogen Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus ΔH are expressed in response to H2 availability. In the present study, cis elements and trans-acting factors responsible for the gene expression of MCRs were investigated by using electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) and affinity particle purification. A survey of their operator regions by EMSA with protein extracts from mrt-expressing cultures restricted them to 46- and 41-bp-long mcr and mrt upstream regions, respectively. Affinity particle purification of DNA-binding proteins conjugated with putative operator regions resulted in the retrieval of a protein attributed to IMP dehydrogenase-related protein VII (IMPDH VII). IMPDH VII is predicted to have a winged helix-turn-helix DNA-binding motif and two cystathionine β-synthase domains, and it has been suspected to be an energy-sensing module. EMSA with oligonucleotide probes with unusual sequences showed that the binding site of IMPDH VII mostly overlaps the factor B-responsible element-TATA box of the mcr operon. The results presented here suggest that IMPDH VII encoded by MTH126 is a plausible candidate for the transcriptional regulator of the mcr operon in this methanogen.
PMCID: PMC2570296  PMID: 18757575
11.  The Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase from Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus Has a Novel Structure 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(15):5129-5137.
In Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus, oxaloacetate synthesis is a major and essential CO2-fixation reaction. This methanogenic archaeon possesses two oxaloacetate-synthesizing enzymes, pyruvate carboxylase and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase. The phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase from this organism was purified to homogeneity. The subunit size of this homotetrameric protein was 55 kDa, which is about half that of all known bacterial and eukaryotic phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylases (PPCs). The NH2-terminal sequence identified this enzyme as the product of MTH943, an open reading frame with no assigned function in the genome sequence. A BLAST search did not show an obvious sequence similarity between MTH943 and known PPCs, which are generally well conserved. This is the first report of a new type of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase that we call PpcA (“A” for “archaeal”). Homologs to PpcA were present in most archaeal genomic sequences, but only in three bacterial (Clostridium perfringens, Oenococcus oeni, and Leuconostoc mesenteroides) and no eukaryotic genomes. PpcA was the only recognizable oxaloacetate-producing enzyme in Methanopyrus kandleri, a hydrothermal vent organism. Each PpcA-containing organism lacked a PPC homolog. The activity of M. thermautotrophicus PpcA was not influenced by acetyl coenzyme A and was about 50 times less sensitive to aspartate than the Escherichia coli PPC. The catalytic core (including His138, Arg587, and Gly883) of the E. coli PPC was partly conserved in PpcA, but three of four aspartate-binding residues (Lys773, Arg832, and Asn881) were not. PPCs probably evolved from PpcA through a process that added allosteric sites to the enzyme. The reverse is also equally possible.
PMCID: PMC451628  PMID: 15262949
12.  A Cysteine-Rich CCG Domain Contains a Novel [4Fe-4S] Cluster Binding Motif As Deduced from Studies with Subunit B of Heterodisulfide Reductase from Methanothermobacter marburgensis† 
Biochemistry  2007;46(44):12875-12885.
Heterodisulfide reductase (HDR) of methanogenic archaea with its active-site [4Fe-4S] cluster catalyzes the reversible reduction of the heterodisulfide (CoM-S-S-CoB) of the methanogenic coenzyme M (CoM-SH) and coenzyme B (CoB-SH). CoM-HDR, a mechanistic-based paramagnetic intermediate generated upon half-reaction of the oxidized enzyme with CoM-SH, is a novel type of [4Fe-4S]3+ cluster with CoM-SH as a ligand. Subunit HdrB of the Methanothermobacter marburgensis HdrABC holoenzyme contains two cysteine-rich sequence motifs (CX31–39CCX35–36CXXC), designated as CCG domain in the Pfam database and conserved in many proteins. Here we present experimental evidence that the C-terminal CCG domain of HdrB binds this unusual [4Fe-4S] cluster. HdrB was produced in Escherichia coli, and an iron–sulfur cluster was subsequently inserted by in vitro reconstitution. In the oxidized state the cluster without the substrate exhibited a rhombic EPR signal (gzyx= 2.015, 1.995, and 1.950) reminiscent of the CoM-HDR signal. 57Fe ENDOR spectroscopy revealed that this paramagnetic species is a [4Fe-4S] cluster with 57Fe hyperfine couplings very similar to that of CoM-HDR. CoM-33SH resulted in a broadening of the EPR signal, and upon addition of CoM-SH the midpoint potential of the cluster was shifted to values observed for CoM-HDR, both indicating binding of CoM-SH to the cluster. Site-directed mutagenesis of all 12 cysteine residues in HdrB identified four cysteines of the C-terminal CCG domain as cluster ligands. Combined with the previous detection of CoM-HDR-like EPR signals in other CCG domain-containing proteins our data indicate a general role of the C-terminal CCG domain in coordination of this novel [4Fe-4S] cluster. In addition, Zn K-edge X-ray absorption spectroscopy identified an isolated Zn site with an S3(O/N)1 geometry in HdrB and the HDR holoenzyme. The N-terminal CCG domain is suggested to provide ligands to the Zn site.
PMCID: PMC3543786  PMID: 17929940
13.  Application of Pseudomurein Endoisopeptidase to Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization of Methanogens within the Family Methanobacteriaceae▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2006;72(11):6907-6913.
In situ detection of methanogens within the family Methanobacteriaceae is sometimes known to be unsuccessful due to the difficulty in permeability of oligonucleotide probes. Pseudomurein endoisopeptidase (Pei), a lytic enzyme that specifically acts on their cell walls, was applied prior to 16S rRNA-targeting fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). For this purpose, pure cultured methanogens within this family, Methanobacterium bryantii, Methanobrevibacter ruminantium, Methanosphaera stadtmanae, and Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus together with a Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus-containing syntrophic acetate-oxidizing coculture, endosymbiotic Methanobrevibacter methanogens within an anaerobic ciliate, and an upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) granule were examined. Even without the Pei treatment, Methanobacterium bryantii and Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus cells are relatively well hybridized with oligonucleotide probes. However, almost none of the cells of Methanobrevibacter ruminantium, Methanosphaera stadtmanae, cocultured Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus, and the endosymbiotic methanogens and the cells within UASB granule were hybridized. Pei treatment was able to increase the probe hybridization ratio in every specimen, particularly in the specimen that had shown little hybridization. Interestingly, the hybridizing signal intensity of Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus cells in coculture with an acetate-oxidizing H2-producing syntroph was significantly improved by Pei pretreatment, whereas the probe was well hybridized with the cells of pure culture of the same strain. We found that the difference is attributed to the differences in cell wall thicknesses between the two culture conditions. These results indicate that Pei treatment is effective for FISH analysis of methanogens that show impermeability to the probe.
PMCID: PMC1636154  PMID: 16950902
14.  Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus modulates its membrane lipids in response to hydrogen and nutrient availability 
Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus strain ΔH is a model hydrogenotrophic methanogen, for which extensive biochemical information, including the complete genome sequence, is available. Nevertheless, at the cell membrane lipid level, little is known about the responses of this archaeon to environmental stimuli. In this study, the lipid composition of M. thermautotrophicus was characterized to verify how this archaeon modulates its cell membrane components during growth phases and in response to hydrogen depletion and nutrient limitation (potassium and phosphate). As opposed to the higher abundance of phospholipids in the stationary phase of control experiments, cell membranes under nutrient, and energy stress were dominated by glycolipids that likely provided a more effective barrier against ion leakage. We also identified particular lipid regulatory mechanisms in M. thermautotrophicus, which included the accumulation of polyprenols under hydrogen-limited conditions and an increased content of sodiated adducts of lipids in nutrient-limited cells. These findings suggest that M. thermautotrophicus intensely modulates its cell membrane lipid composition to cope with energy and nutrient availability in dynamic environments.
PMCID: PMC4302986  PMID: 25657645
archaea; stress response; polar lipids; diether; tetraether
15.  Towards a metagenomic understanding on enhanced biomethane production from waste activated sludge after pH 10 pretreatment 
Understanding the effects of pretreatment on anaerobic digestion of sludge waste from wastewater treatment plants is becoming increasingly important, as impetus moves towards the utilization of sludge for renewable energy production. Although the field of sludge pretreatment has progressed significantly over the past decade, critical questions concerning the underlying microbial interactions remain unanswered. In this study, a metagenomic approach was adopted to investigate the microbial composition and gene content contributing to enhanced biogas production from sludge subjected to a novel pretreatment method (maintaining pH at 10 for 8 days) compared to other documented methods (ultrasonic, thermal and thermal-alkaline).
Our results showed that pretreated sludge attained a maximum methane yield approximately 4-fold higher than that of the blank un-pretreated sludge set-up at day 17. Both the microbial and metabolic consortium shifted extensively towards enhanced biodegradation subsequent to pretreatment, providing insight for the enhanced methane yield. The prevalence of Methanosaeta thermophila and Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus, together with the functional affiliation of enzymes-encoding genes suggested an acetoclastic and hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis pathway. Additionally, an alternative enzymology in Methanosaeta was observed.
This study is the first to provide a microbiological understanding of improved biogas production subsequent to a novel waste sludge pretreatment method. The knowledge garnered will assist the design of more efficient pretreatment methods for biogas production in the future.
PMCID: PMC3607842  PMID: 23506434
Wastewater treatment plant; Sludge; Pretreatment; Renewable energy; Biomethane; Pyrosequencing; Metagenomic
16.  Stable acetate production in extreme-thermophilic (70°C) mixed culture fermentation by selective enrichment of hydrogenotrophic methanogens 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:5268.
The control of metabolite production is difficult in mixed culture fermentation. This is particularly related to hydrogen inhibition. In this work, hydrogenotrophic methanogens were selectively enriched to reduce the hydrogen partial pressure and to realize efficient acetate production in extreme-thermophilic (70°C) mixed culture fermentation. The continuous stirred tank reactor (CSTR) was stable operated during 100 days, in which acetate accounted for more than 90% of metabolites in liquid solutions. The yields of acetate, methane and biomass in CSTR were 1.5 ± 0.06, 1.0 ± 0.13 and 0.4 ± 0.05 mol/mol glucose, respectively, close to the theoretical expected values. The CSTR effluent was stable and no further conversion occurred when incubated for 14 days in a batch reactor. In fed-batch experiments, acetate could be produced up to 34.4 g/L, significantly higher than observed in common hydrogen producing fermentations. Acetate also accounted for more than 90% of soluble products formed in these fed-batch fermentations. The microbial community analysis revealed hydrogenotrophic methanogens (mainly Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus and Methanobacterium thermoaggregans) as 98% of Archaea, confirming that high temperature will select hydrogenotrophic methanogens over aceticlastic methanogens effectively. This work demonstrated a potential application to effectively produce acetate as a value chemical and methane as an energy gas together via mixed culture fermentation.
PMCID: PMC4053707  PMID: 24920064
17.  Methanococci Use the Diaminopimelate Aminotransferase (DapL) Pathway for Lysine Biosynthesis ▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;192(13):3304-3310.
The pathway of lysine biosynthesis in the methanococci has not been identified previously. A variant of the diaminopimelic acid (DAP) pathway uses diaminopimelate aminotransferase (DapL) to catalyze the direct conversion of tetrahydrodipicolinate (THDPA) to ll-DAP. Recently, the enzyme DapL (MTH52) was identified in Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus and shown to belong to the DapL1 group. Although the Methanococcus maripaludis genome lacks a gene that can be unambiguously assigned a DapL function based on sequence similarity, the open reading frame MMP1527 product shares 30% amino acid sequence identity with MTH52. A Δmmp1527 deletion mutant was constructed and found to be a lysine auxotroph, suggesting that this DapL homolog in methanococci is required for lysine biosynthesis. In cell extracts of the M. maripaludis wild-type strain, the specific activity of DapL using ll-DAP and α-ketoglutarate as substrates was 24.3 ± 2.0 nmol min−1 mg of protein−1. The gene encoding the DapL homolog in Methanocaldococcus jannaschii (MJ1391) was cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli, and the protein was purified. The maximum activity of MJ1391 was observed at 70°C and pH 8.0 to 9.0. The apparent Kms of MJ1391 for ll-DAP and α-ketoglutarate were 82.8 ± 10 μM and 0.42 ± 0.02 mM, respectively. MJ1391 was not able to use succinyl-DAP or acetyl-DAP as a substrate. Phylogenetic analyses suggested that two lateral gene transfers occurred in the DapL genes, one from the archaea to the bacteria in the DapL2 group and one from the bacteria to the archaea in the DapL1 group. These results demonstrated that the DapL pathway is present in marine methanogens belonging to the Methanococcales.
PMCID: PMC2897669  PMID: 20418392
18.  Characterization of Thermophilic Archaeal Isopentenyl Phosphate Kinases 
Biochemistry  2010;49(1):10.1021/bi9017957.
Archaea synthesize isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP) and dimethylallyl diphosphate (DMAPP), the essential building blocks of isoprenoid compounds, from mevalonate (MVA). However, an analysis of the genomes of several members of the Archaea failed to identify genes for the enzymes required to convert phosphomevalonate (PM) to IPP in Eukaryotes. The recent discovery of an isopentenyl kinase (IPK) in Methanocaldococcus jannaschii (MJ) suggests a new variation of the MVA pathway where PM is decarboxylated to give isopentenyl phosphate (IP), which is phosphorylated to produce IPP. A blast search using the MJ protein as a probe revealed a subfamily of amino acid kinases that include the fosfomycin resistance protein fomA, which deactivates the antibiotic by phosphorylation of its phosphonate residue in a reaction similar to the conversion of IP to IPP. IPK genes were cloned from two organisms identified in the search, Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus (MTH) and Thermoplasma acidophilum (THA), and the His-tagged recombinant proteins were purified by Ni-NTA chromatography. The enzymes catalyze the reversible phosphorylation of IP by ATP, Keq = 6.3 ± 1. The catalytic efficiencies (V/K) of the proteins were ~2 × 106 M−1s−1. In the reverse direction, ADP was a substrate inhibitor for THA IPK, KiADP = 58 ± 6 µM but not for MTH IPK. Both enzymes were active over a broad range of pH and temperature. Five compounds, dimethylallyl phosphate, isopentenyl thiolophosphate, 1-butyl phosphate, 3-buten-1-yl phosphate, and geranyl phosphate, were evaluated as alternative substrate for the MTH and THA IP kinases. All of the compounds were phosphorylated, although the catalytic efficiency was low for geranyl phosphate.
PMCID: PMC3856865  PMID: 19928876
19.  Coaggregation Facilitates Interspecies Hydrogen Transfer between Pelotomaculum thermopropionicum and Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2005;71(12):7838-7845.
A thermophilic syntrophic bacterium, Pelotomaculum thermopropionicum strain SI, was grown in a monoculture or coculture with a hydrogenotrophic methanogen, Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus strain ΔH. Microscopic observation revealed that cells of each organism were dispersed in a monoculture independent of the growth substrate. In a coculture, however, these organisms coaggregated to different degrees depending on the substrate; namely, a large fraction of the cells coaggregated when they were grown on propionate, but relatively few cells coaggregated when they were grown on ethanol or 1-propanol. Field emission-scanning electron microscopy revealed that flagellum-like filaments of SI cells played a role in making contact with ΔH cells. Microscopic observation of aggregates also showed that extracellular polymeric substance-like structures were present in intercellular spaces. In order to evaluate the importance of coaggregation for syntrophic propionate oxidation, allowable average distances between SI and ΔH cells for accomplishing efficient interspecies hydrogen transfer were calculated by using Fick's diffusion law. The allowable distance for syntrophic propionate oxidation was estimated to be approximately 2 μm, while the allowable distances for ethanol and propanol oxidation were 16 μm and 32 μm, respectively. Considering that the mean cell-to-cell distance in the randomly dispersed culture was approximately 30 μm (at a concentration in the mid-exponential growth phase of the coculture of 5 × 107 cells ml−1), it is obvious that close physical contact of these organisms by coaggregation is indispensable for efficient syntrophic propionate oxidation.
PMCID: PMC1317437  PMID: 16332758
20.  Dynamic Transition of a Methanogenic Population in Response to the Concentration of Volatile Fatty Acids in a Thermophilic Anaerobic Digester 
In this study, the microbial community succession in a thermophilic methanogenic bioreactor under deteriorative and stable conditions that were induced by acidification and neutralization, respectively, was investigated using PCR-mediated single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) based on the 16S rRNA gene, quantitative PCR, and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). The SSCP analysis indicated that the archaeal community structure was closely correlated with the volatile fatty acid (VFA) concentration, while the bacterial population was impacted by pH. The archaeal community consisted mainly of two species of hydrogenotrophic methanogen (i.e., a Methanoculleus sp. and a Methanothermobacter sp.) and one species of aceticlastic methanogen (i.e., a Methanosarcina sp.). The quantitative PCR of the 16S rRNA gene from each methanogen revealed that the Methanoculleus sp. predominated among the methanogens during operation under stable conditions in the absence of VFAs. Accumulation of VFAs induced a dynamic transition of hydrogenotrophic methanogens, and in particular, a drastic change (i.e., an approximately 10,000-fold increase) in the amount of the 16S rRNA gene from the Methanothermobacter sp. The predominance of the one species of hydrogenotrophic methanogen was replaced by that of the other in response to the VFA concentration, suggesting that the dissolved hydrogen concentration played a decisive role in the predominance. The hydrogenotrophic methanogens existed close to bacteria in aggregates, and a transition of the associated bacteria was also observed by FISH analyses. The degradation of acetate accumulated during operation under deteriorative conditions was concomitant with the selective proliferation of the Methanosarcina sp., indicating effective acetate degradation by the aceticlastic methanogen. The simple methanogenic population in the thermophilic anaerobic digester significantly responded to the environmental conditions, especially to the concentration of VFAs.
PMCID: PMC1392901  PMID: 16461718
21.  A study of archaeal enzymes involved in polar lipid synthesis linking amino acid sequence information, genomic contexts and lipid composition 
Archaea  2005;1(6):399-410.
Cellular membrane lipids, of which phospholipids are the major constituents, form one of the characteristic features that distinguish Archaea from other organisms. In this study, we focused on the steps in archaeal phospholipid synthetic pathways that generate polar lipids such as archaetidylserine, archaetidylglycerol, and archaetidylinositol. Only archaetidylserine synthase (ASS), from Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus,has been experimentally identified. Other enzymes have not been fully examined. Through database searching, we detected many archaeal hypothetical proteins that show sequence similarity to members of the CDP alcohol phosphatidyltransferase family, such as phosphatidylserine synthase (PSS), phosphatidylglycerol synthase (PGS) and phosphatidylinositol synthase (PIS) derived from Bacteria and Eukarya. The archaeal hypothetical proteins were classified into two groups, based on the sequence similarity. Members of the first group, including ASS from M. thermautotrophicus, were closely related to PSS. The rough agreement between PSS homologue distribution within Archaea and the experimentally identified distribution of archaetidylserine suggested that the hypothetical proteins are ASSs. We found that an open reading frame (ORF) tends to be adjacent to that of ASS in the genome, and that the order of the two ORFs is conserved. The sequence similarity of phosphatidylserine decarboxylase to the product of the ORF next to the ASS gene, together with the genomic context conservation, suggests that the ORF encodes archaetidylserine decarboxylase, which may transform archaetidylserine to archaetidylethanolamine. The second group of archaeal hypothetical proteins was related to PGS and PIS. The members of this group were subjected to molecular phylogenetic analysis, together with PGSs and PISs and it was found that they formed two distinct clusters in the molecular phylogenetic tree. The distribution of members of each cluster within Archaea roughly corresponded to the experimentally identified distribution of archaetidylglycerol or archaetidylinositol. The molecular phylogenetic tree patterns and the correspondence to the membrane compositions suggest that the two clusters in this group correspond to archaetidylglycerol synthases and archaetidylinositol synthases. No archaeal hypothetical protein with sequence similarity to known phosphatidylcholine synthases was detected in this study.
PMCID: PMC2685579  PMID: 16243780
archaetidylcholine; archaetidylglycerol; archaetidylinositol; archaetidylserine; genomic context; phylogenetic tree
22.  CDP-2,3-Di-O-Geranylgeranyl-sn-Glycerol:l-Serine O-Archaetidyltransferase (Archaetidylserine Synthase) in the Methanogenic Archaeon Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus 
Journal of Bacteriology  2003;185(4):1181-1189.
CDP-2,3-di-O-geranylgeranyl-sn-glycerol:l-serine O-archaetidyltransferase (archaetidylserine synthase) activity in cell extracts of Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus cells was characterized. The enzyme catalyzed the formation of unsaturated archaetidylserine from CDP-unsaturated archaeol and l-serine. The identity of the reaction products was confirmed by thin-layer chromatography, fast atom bombardment-mass spectrum analysis, and chemical degradation. The enzyme showed maximal activity in the presence of 10 mM Mn2+ and 1% Triton X-100. Among various synthetic substrate analogs, both enantiomers of CDP-unsaturated archaeols with ether-linked geranylgeranyl chains and CDP-saturated archaeol with ether-linked phytanyl chains were similarly active toward the archaetidylserine synthase. The activity on the ester analog of the substrate was two to three times higher than that on the corresponding ether-type substrate. The activity of d-serine with the enzyme was 30% of that observed for l-serine. A trace amount of an acid-labile, unsaturated archaetidylserine intermediate was detected in the cells by a pulse-labeling experiment. A gene (MT1027) in M. thermautotrophicus genome annotated as the gene encoding phosphatidylserine synthase was found to be homologous to Bacillus subtilis pssA but not to Escherichia coli pssA. The substrate specificity of phosphatidylserine synthase from B. subtilis was quite similar to that observed for the M. thermautotrophicus archaetidylserine synthase, while the E. coli enzyme had a strong preference for CDP-1,2-diacyl-sn-glycerol. It was concluded that M. thermautotrophicus archaetidylserine synthase belongs to subclass II phosphatidylserine synthase (B. subtilis type) on the basis of not only homology but also substrate specificity and some enzymatic properties. The possibility that a gene encoding the subclass II phosphatidylserine synthase might be transferred from a bacterium to an ancestor of methanogens is discussed.
PMCID: PMC142863  PMID: 12562787
23.  Mutagenesis of the C1 Oxidation Pathway in Methanosarcina barkeri: New Insights into the Mtr/Mer Bypass Pathway▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2008;190(6):1928-1936.
A series of Methanosarcina barkeri mutants lacking the genes encoding the enzymes involved in the C1 oxidation/reduction pathway were constructed. Mutants lacking the methyl-tetrahydromethanopterin (H4MPT):coenzyme M (CoM) methyltransferase-encoding operon (Δmtr), the methylene-H4MPT reductase-encoding gene (Δmer), the methylene-H4MPT dehydrogenase-encoding gene (Δmtd), and the formyl-methanofuran:H4MPT formyl-transferase-encoding gene (Δftr) all failed to grow using either methanol or H2/CO2 as a growth substrate, indicating that there is an absolute requirement for the C1 oxidation/reduction pathway for hydrogenotrophic and methylotrophic methanogenesis. The mutants also failed to grow on acetate, and we suggest that this was due to an inability to generate the reducing equivalents needed for biosynthetic reactions. Despite their lack of growth on methanol, the Δmtr and Δmer mutants were capable of producing methane from this substrate, whereas the Δmtd and Δftr mutants were not. Thus, there is an Mtr/Mer bypass pathway that allows oxidation of methanol to the level of methylene-H4MPT in M. barkeri. The data further suggested that formaldehyde may be an intermediate in this bypass; however, no methanol dehydrogenase activity was found in Δmtr cell extracts, nor was there an obligate role for the formaldehyde-activating enzyme (Fae), which has been shown to catalyze the condensation of formaldehyde and H4MPT in vitro. Both the Δmer and Δmtr mutants were able to grow on a combination of methanol plus acetate, but they did so by metabolic pathways that are clearly distinct from each other and from previously characterized methanogenic pathways.
PMCID: PMC2258867  PMID: 18178739
24.  Application of a Colorimetric Assay to Identify Putative Ribofuranosylaminobenzene 5'-Phosphate Synthase Genes Expressed with Activity in Escherichia coli  
Tetrahydromethanopterin (H4MPT) is a tetrahydrofolate analog originally discovered in methanogenic archaea, but later found in other archaea and bacteria. The extent to which H4MPT occurs among living organisms is unknown. The key enzyme which distinguishes the biosynthetic pathways of H4MPT and tetrahydrofolate is ribofuranosylaminobenzene 5'-phosphate synthase (RFAP synthase). Given the importance of RFAP synthase in H4MPT biosynthesis, the identification of putative RFAP synthase genes and measurement of RFAP synthase activity would provide an indication of the presence of H4MPT in untested microorganisms. Investigation of putative archaeal RFAP synthase genes has been hampered by the tendency of the resulting proteins to form inactive inclusion bodies in Escherichia coli. The current work describes a colorimetric assay for measuring RFAP synthase activity, and two modified procedures for expressing recombinant RFAP synthase genes to produce soluble, active enzyme. By lowering the incubation temperature during expression, RFAP synthase from Archaeoglobus fulgidus was produced in E. coli and purified to homogeneity. The production of active RFAP synthase from Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus was achieved by coexpression of the gene MTH0830 with a molecular chaperone. This is the first direct biochemical identification of a methanogen gene that codes for an active RFAP synthase.
PMCID: PMC152576  PMID: 12734554
archaea; tetrahydrofolates
25.  A Single-Culture Bioprocess of Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus to Upgrade Digester Biogas by CO2-to-CH4 Conversion with H2 
Archaea  2013;2013:157529.
We optimized and tested a postbioprocessing step with a single-culture archaeon to upgrade biogas (i.e., increase methane content) from anaerobic digesters via conversion of CO2 into CH4 by feeding H2 gas. We optimized a culture of the thermophilic methanogen Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus using: (1) a synthetic H2/CO2 mixture; (2) the same mixture with pressurization; (3) a synthetic biogas with different CH4 contents and H2; and (4) an industrial, untreated biogas and H2. A laboratory culture with a robust growth (dry weight of 6.4–7.4 g/L; OD600 of 13.6–15.4), a volumetric methane production rate of 21 L/L culture-day, and a H2 conversion efficiency of 89% was moved to an industrial anaerobic digester facility, where it was restarted and fed untreated biogas with a methane content of ~70% at a rate such that CO2 was in excess of the stoichiometric requirements in relation to H2. Over an 8-day operating period, the dry weight of the culture initially decreased slightly before stabilizing at an elevated level of ~8 g/L to achieve a volumetric methane production rate of 21 L/L culture-day and a H2 conversion efficiency of 62%. While some microbial contamination of the culture was observed via microscopy, it did not affect the methane production rate of the culture.
PMCID: PMC3806361  PMID: 24194675

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