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Microbiologists reveal unexpected properties of methane-producing microbe
Date:11/18/2013

at digesters converting brewery wastes to methane contained large quantities of the microorganism Geobacter. Geobacter cannot produce methane, but it does break down more complex substrates to compounds that methane-producing bacteria can use.

The UMass Amherst teams knew from previous studies that Geobacter grow electrically conductive filaments known as microbial nanowires, which can transport electrons outside the cell to make electrical connections with minerals, electrodes or other cells. Methanosaeta were the dominant methane-producing microorganisms in the digesters and known to convert acetate to methane, but analysis of the gene expression in the digester revealed that Methanosaeta were also highly expressing genes for converting carbon dioxide to methane. The researchers speculated that Geobacter were feeding Methanosaeta electrons through their nanowires to promote Methanosaeta's methane production from CO2.

Further studies in which individual Geobacter and a Methanosaeta species were cultured together confirmed these suspicions, Lovley says. He and colleagues used radioactive tags to demonstrate that CO2 was being reduced to methane. They dubbed this transfer via microbial nanowire "direct interspecies electron transfer," or DIET. It was confirmed when they used a strain of Geobacter genetically altered to prevent it from producing nanowires, and the process did not work.

Lovely says the discovery of DIET challenges the concept held for decades that natural methane-producing microbial communities primarily exchange electrons through the production and consumption of hydrogen gas. DIET is a much more direct, and potentially more efficient mechanism for feeding electrons to methane-producing bacteria. "Now we need to improve predictions of how methane-producing microbial communities will respond to climate change. Microbial commu
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Contact: Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
413-545-0444
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Source:Eurekalert  

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