Methanogens are microorganisms that produce methane as a metabolic byproduct in anoxic conditions. They are classified as archaea, a domain distinct from bacteria. They are common in wetlands, where they are responsible for marsh gas, and in the digestive tracts of animals such as ruminants and humans, where they are responsible for the methane content of belching in ruminants and flatulence in humans.[1] In marine sediments the biological production of methane, also termed methanogenesis, is generally confined to where sulfates are depleted, below the top layers.[2] Moreover, the methanogenic archaea populations play an indispensable role in anaerobic wastewater treatments.[3] Others are extremophiles, found in environments such as hot springs and submarine hydrothermal vents as well as in the "solid" rock of the Earth's crust, kilometers below the surface. Not to be confused with methanotrophs which rather consume methane for their carbon and energy requirements.


  • Physical description 1
  • Methanogens and extreme environments 2
  • Comparative genomics and molecular signatures 3
  • Fermentative metabolism 4
  • Strains of methanogens 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7

Physical description

Methanogens are coccoid (spherical shaped) or bacilli (rod shaped). There are over 50 described species of methanogens, which do not form a oxygen even at trace level. Usually, they cannot sustain oxygen stress for a prolonged time. However, Methanosarcina barkeri is exceptional in possessing a superoxide dismutase (SOD) enzyme, and may survive longer than the others in the presence of O2.[4][5] Some methanogens, called hydrogenotrophic, use carbon dioxide (CO2) as a source of carbon, and hydrogen as a reducing agent.

The reduction of carbon dioxide into methane in the presence of hydrogen can be expressed as follows:

CO2 + 4 H2 → CH4 + 2H2O

Some of the CO2 is reacted with the hydrogen to produce methane, which creates an electrochemical gradient across cell membrane, used to generate ATP through chemiosmosis. In contrast, plants and algae use water as their reducing agent.

Methanogens lack peptidoglycan, a polymer that is found in the cell walls of the Bacteria but not in those of Archaea. Some methanogens have a cell wall that is composed of pseudopeptidoglycan. Other methanogens do not, but have at least one paracrystalline array (S-layer) made up of proteins that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Methanogens and extreme environments

Methanogens play the vital ecological role in anaerobic environments of removing excess hydrogen and fermentation products that have been produced by other forms of anaerobic respiration. Methanogens typically thrive in environments in which all electron acceptors other than CO2 (such as oxygen, nitrate, ferriciron (Fe(III)), and sulfate) have been depleted. In deep basaltic rocks near the mid ocean ridges, they can obtain their hydrogen from the serpentinisation reaction of olivine as observed in the hydrothermal field of Lost City.

The thermal breakdown of water and water radiolysis are other possible sources of hydrogen.

Methanogens are key agents of remineralization of

  1. ^ Joseph W. Lengeler (1999). Biology of the Prokaryotes. Stuttgart: Thieme. p. 796.  
  2. ^ J.K. Kristjansson; et al. (1982). "Different Ks values for hydrogen of methanogenic bacteria and sulfate-reducing bacteria: an explanation for the apparent inhibition of methanogenesis by sulfate". Arch. Microbiol. 131 (3): 278–282.  
  3. ^ Meisam Tabatabaei, Raha Abdul Rahim, André-Denis G. Wright, Yoshihito Shirai, Norhani Abdullah, Alawi Sulaiman, Kenji Sakai and Mohd Ali Hassan. 2010. Importance of the methanogenic archaea populations in anaerobic wastewater treatments (Process Biochemistry- 45(8), pp: 1214-1225)
  4. ^ Peters V; Conrad R (1995). "Methanogenic and other strictly anaerobic bacteria in desert soil and other oxic sois". Applied and Environmental Microbiology 61: 1673–1676. 
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  6. ^ Kvenvolden, K. (1995). "A review of the geochemistry of methane in natural gas hydrate". Organic Geochemistry 23 (11–12): 997–1008.  
  7. ^ Milkov, Alexei V (2004). "Global estimates of hydrate-bound gas in marine sediments: how much is really out there?". Earth-Science Reviews 66 (3–4): 183–197.  
  8. ^ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi:10.1073/pnas.0507601102
  9. ^ Icarus (vol. 178, p. 277)cs:Methanogen
  10. ^ Extreme bugs back idea of life on Mars
  11. ^ "Crater Critters: Where Mars Microbes Might Lurk". Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  12. ^ Thauer, R. K. & Shima, S. (2006). "Biogeochemistry: Methane and microbes". Nature 440 (7086): 878–879.  
  13. ^ a b c d Gao B; Gupta RS (2007). "Phylogenomic analysis of proteins that are distinctive of Archaea and its main subgroups and the origin of methanogenesis". BMC Genomics 8: 86.  
  14. ^ Gribaldo S; Brochier-Armanet C (2006). "The origin and evolution of Archaea: a state of the art". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 361: 1007–1022.  
  15. ^ M.J. Whiticar; et al. (1986). "Biogenic methane formation in marine and freshwater environments: CO2 reduction vs. acetate fermentation — isotope evidence". Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 50 (5): 393–709.  
  16. ^ Ferry, J.G. (1992). "Methane from acetate". Journal of Bacteriology 174 (17): 5489–5495.  
  17. ^ Vogels, G.D.; Keltjens J.T.; Van Der Drift C. (1988). "Biochemistry of methane production". In Zehnder A.J.B. Biology of anaerobic microorganisms. New York: Wiley. pp. 707–770. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ doi:10.1038/ncomms4212


See also

Strains of methanogens

Archaea that catabolize acetate for energy are referred to as acetotrophic or aceticlastic. Methylotrophic archaea utilize methylated compounds such as methylamines, methanol, and methanethiol as well.

This disproportionation reaction is enzymatically catalysed. One electron is transferred from the carbonyl function (e donor) of the carboxylic group to the methyl group (e acceptor) of acetic acid to respectively produce CO2 and methane gas.

CH3COO + H+ → CH4 + CO2       ΔG° = -36 kJ/reaction

In the fermentation pathway, acetic acid undergoes a dismutation reaction to produce methane and carbon dioxide:[16][17]

Although most marine biogenic methane is the result of carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction, a small amount is derived from acetate (CH3COO) fermentation.[15]

Fermentative metabolism

Comparative genomic analysis has led to the identification of 31 signature proteins which are specific for the methanogens (also known as Methanoarchaeota). Most of these proteins are related to methanogenesis, and they could serve as potential molecular markers for the methanogens.[13] Additionally, 10 proteins found in all methanogens which are shared by Archaeoglobus, suggest that these two groups are related.[13] In phylogenetic trees, the methanogens are not monophyletic and they are generally split into three clades.,[13][14] Hence, the unique shared presence of large numbers of proteins by all methanogens could be due to lateral gene transfers.[13]

Comparative genomics and molecular signatures

Closely related to the methanogens are the anaerobic methane oxidizers, which utilize methane as a substrate in conjunction with the reduction of sulfate and nitrate.[12] Most methanogens are autotrophic producers, but those that oxidize CH3COO are classed as chemotroph instead.

Some scientists have proposed that the presence of methane in the Martian atmosphere may be indicative of native methanogens on that planet.[11]

Another study[9] has also discovered methanogens in a harsh environment on Earth. Researchers studied dozens of soil and vapour samples from five different desert environments in Utah, Idaho and California in the United States, and in Canada and Chile. Of these, five soil samples and three vapour samples from the vicinity of the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah were found to have signs of viable methanogens.[10]

Methanogens have been found in several extreme environments on Earth - buried under kilometres of ice in Greenland and living in hot, dry desert soil. They can reproduce at temperatures of 15 to 100 degrees Celsius. They are known to be the most common archaebacteria in deep subterranean habitats. Live microbes making methane were found in a glacial ice core sample retrieved from three kilometres under Greenland by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.[8]