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Montana State team overcomes challenges, proves that microbes swim to hydrogen gas
Date:11/8/2013

BOZEMAN, Mont. Scientists have long believed that microorganisms that produce methane swim toward the hydrogen gas they need to stay alive, but it has been too hard to prove in the lab.

Montana State University researchers have now overcome those challenges, allowing them to verify it for the first time, said Matthew Fields, an associate professor in MSU's Department of Microbiology and co-author of a new paper describing the find.

In the process, the researchers discovered hydrogenotaxis, the movement of a biological cell toward hydrogen gas, and noticed that the cells were especially speedy when starving. They also made a video of the microorganism rushing toward its next meal. The methane-producing organism lives without oxygen, and it's classified as Archaea, one of the three domains of life.

An article explaining MSU's find is published in the Nov. 5 issue of Scientific Reports, an online journal affiliated with the international journal Nature.

The MSU breakthrough helps fill in gaps of knowledge about microorganisms that are crucial to Earth's carbon cycle, early Earth processes and climate change, Fields said. It will also have implications across a wide range of disciplines since methanogenic Archaea live in anaerobic environments, ranging from salt marshes to wastewater treatment to the human microbiota. Whenever organic matter is being degraded, these microorganisms are typically present.

"They are the bottom of the food chain," Fields said.

MSU microbiologist Gill Geesey, who encouraged the team to pursue the project, added that the scientists demonstrated hydrogenotaxis for the first time in any domain of life. He added that the movement likely gives microorganisms a competitive advantage for accessing hydrogen in the environment.

"Hydrogenotaxis may also promote the establishment and maintenance of microbial interactions at the population- and community-level, whi
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Contact: Evelyn Boswell
evelynb@montana.edu
406-994-5135
Montana State University
Source:Eurekalert

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