Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists unravel the mystery of marine methane oxidation

Date:
November 12, 2012
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
Researchers have uncovered how microorganisms on the ocean floor protect the atmosphere from methane.

In this model, methane oxidation and sulfate respiration to elemental sulfur (or all the way to sulfide) is performed by the methanotrophic archaea (ANME). The associated bacteria (DSS) are disproportionators (sulfur fermentors), which take up produced elemental sulfur in the form of disulfide and turn it into sulfate and sulfide. Dark circles represent iron- and phosphorus-rich precipitates found in the bacteria.
Credit: © Jana Milucka, MPI f. Marine Microbiology

Researchers have uncovered how microorganisms on the ocean floor protect the atmosphere from methane.

Microbiologists and geochemists from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, along with their colleagues from Vienna and Mainz, show that marine methane oxidation coupled to sulfate respiration can be performed by a single microorganism, a member of the ancient kingdom of the Archaea, and does not need to be carried out in collaboration with a bacterium, as previously thought. They published their discovery as an article in the scientific journal Nature.

Vast amounts of methane are stored under the ocean floor. Anaerobic oxidation of methane coupled to sulfate respiration (AOM) prevents the release of this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Although the process was discovered 35 years ago it has remained a long standing mystery as to how microorganisms perform this reaction. A decade ago, an important discovery was made which showed that two different microorganisms are often associated with AOM. It was proposed that these two microorganisms perform different parts of the AOM reaction. One, an archaeon, was supposed to oxidize methane and the other, a bacterium, was supposed to respire sulfate. This implied the existence of an intermediate compound to be shuttled from the methane oxidizer to the sulfate respirer.

Now, the team around Professor Kuypers has turned this whole model on its head. They show that the archaeon not only oxidizes methane but can also respire sulfate and does not necessarily need the bacterial partner. It appears that the archaeon does not employ the common enzyme toolbox that other known sulfate-respiring microorganisms use, but relies on a different, unknown pathway.

The basis for this dramatic shift in thinking is the observation that elemental sulfur is formed and accumulates in the methane-oxidizing archaeon. "Using chromatographic and state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques we found surprisingly high concentrations of elemental sulfur in our cultures," says Professor Marcel Kuypers and adds: "The single-cell techniques showed that the sulfur content in the methane-degrading archaeon was much higher than in the bacterium. Our experiments show that this sulfur is formed during sulfate respiration. "

This finding begs the question: What does the bacterium do if the archaeon does both sulfate respiration and methane oxidation? "The bacteria actually make a living off of the elemental sulfur produced by the archaea," explains Jana Milucka, first author of the study. "The bacteria grow by splitting the elemental sulfur into sulfate and hydrogen sulfide. This is a form of fermentation, like the process that produces alcohol."

"Until now we have always had trouble explaining the occurrence of elemental sulfur in oxygen-free sediments," notes Tim Ferdelman, scientist at the MPI Bremen and coauthor on the publication. "Our discoveries not only provide a mechanism for marine methane oxidation but also cast a new light on the carbon and sulfur cycling in marine, methane-rich sediments."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jana Milucka, Timothy G. Ferdelman, Lubos Polerecky, Daniela Franzke, Gunter Wegener, Markus Schmid, Ingo Lieberwirth, Michael Wagner, Friedrich Widdel, Marcel M. M. Kuypers. Zero-valent sulphur is a key intermediate in marine methane oxidation. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11656

Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Scientists unravel the mystery of marine methane oxidation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112090519.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2012, November 12). Scientists unravel the mystery of marine methane oxidation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 14, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112090519.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Scientists unravel the mystery of marine methane oxidation." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112090519.htm (accessed September 14, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pakistan's 'killer Mountain' Fails to Draw Tourists After Attack

Pakistan's 'killer Mountain' Fails to Draw Tourists After Attack

AFP (Sep. 12, 2014) — In June 2013, 10 foreign mountaineers and their guide were murdered on Nanga Parbat, an iconic peak that stands at 8,126m tall in northern Pakisan. Duration: 02:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — Two solar flares which erupted in our direction this week will arrive this weekend. The resulting solar storm will be powerful but not dangerous. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Ozone Layer Is Recovering, But It's Not All Good News

The Ozone Layer Is Recovering, But It's Not All Good News

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — The Ozone layer is recovering thickness! Hooray! But in helping its recovery, we may have also helped put more greenhouse gases out there. Hooray? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:  

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile iPhone Android Web
    Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins