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Thermodynamic and Kinetic Requirements in Anaerobic Methane Oxidizing Consortia Exclude Hydrogen, Acetate, and Methanol as Possible Electron Shuttles

K. B. Sørensen, K. Finster and N. B. Ramsing
Microbial Ecology
Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jun., 2001), pp. 1-10
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4287495
Page Count: 10
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Thermodynamic and Kinetic Requirements in Anaerobic Methane Oxidizing Consortia Exclude Hydrogen, Acetate, and Methanol as Possible Electron Shuttles
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Abstract

Anaerobic methane oxidation (AMO) has long remained an enigma in microbial ecology. In the process the net reaction appears to be an oxidation of methane with sulfate as electron acceptor. In order to explain experimental data such as effects of inhibitors and isotopic signals in biomarkers it has been suggested that the process is carried out by a consortium of bacteria using an unknown compound to shuttle electrons between the participants. The overall change in free energy during AMO with sulfate is very small (≈22 kJ mol-1) at in situ concentrations of methane and sulfate. In order to share the available free energy between the members of the consortium, the concentration of the intermediate electron shuttle compound becomes crucial. Diffusive flux of a substrate (i.e, the electron shuttle) between bacteria requires a stable concentration gradient where the concentration is higher in the producing organism than in the consuming organism. Since changes in concentrations cause changes in reaction free energies, the diffusive flux of a catabolic product/substrate between bacteria is associated with a net loss of available energy. This restricts maximal interbacterial distances in consortia composed of stationary bacteria. A simple theoretical model was used to describe the relationship between inter-bacterial distances and the energy lost due to concentration differences in consortia. Key parameters turned out to be the permissible concentration range of the electron shuttle in the consortium (i.e., the concentration range that allows both participants to gain sufficient energy) and the stoichiometry of the partial reactions. The model was applied to two known consortia degrading ethanol and butyrate and to four hypothetical methaneoxidizing consortia (MOC) based on interspecies transfer of hydrogen, methanol, acetate, or formate, respectively. In the first three MOCs the permissible distances between producers and consumers of the transferred compounds were less than two times prokaryotic cell wall diameters. Consequently, it is not possible that a MOC can be based on inter-species transfer of hydrogen, methanol, or acetate. Formate, on the other hand, is a possible shuttle candidate provided the bacteria are attached to one another. In general the model predicts that members of consortia thriving on low energy such as the MOC must adhere to each other and utilize a compound for the exchange of electrons that has a high permissible concentration range and a high diffusion coefficient and transfers as many electrons as possible per molecule.

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