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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1997 Mar;63(3):874-80.

Oxidation and assimilation of atmospheric methane by soil methane oxidizers.


The metabolism of atmospheric methane in a forest soil was studied by radiotracer techniques. Maximum (sup14)CH(inf4) oxidation (163.5 pmol of C cm(sup-3) h(sup-1)) and (sup14)C assimilation (50.3 pmol of C cm(sup-3) h(sup-1)) occurred at the A(inf2) horizon located 15 to 18 cm below the soil surface. At this depth, 31 to 43% of the atmospheric methane oxidized was assimilated into microbial biomass; the remaining methane was recovered as (sup14)CO(inf2). Methane-derived carbon was incorporated into all major cell macromolecules by the soil microorganisms (50% as proteins, 19% as nucleic acids and polysaccharides, and 5% as lipids). The percentage of methane assimilated (carbon conversion efficiency) remained constant at temperatures between 5 and 20(deg)C, followed by a decrease at 30(deg)C. The carbon conversion efficiency did not increase at methane concentrations between 1.7 and 1,000 ppm. In contrast, the overall methane oxidation activity increased at elevated methane concentrations, with an apparent K(infm) of 21 ppm (31 nM CH(inf4)) and a V(infmax) of 188 pmol of CH(inf4) cm(sup-3) h(sup-1). Methane oxidizers from soil depths with maximum methanotrophic activity respired approximately 1 to 3% of the assimilated methane-derived carbon per day. This apparent endogenous respiration did not change significantly in the absence of methane. Similarly, the potential for oxidation of atmospheric methane was relatively insensitive to methane starvation. Soil samples from depths above and below the zone with maximum atmospheric methane oxidation activity showed a dramatic increase in the turnover of the methane assimilated (>20 times increase). Physical disturbance such as sieving or mixing of soil samples decreased methane oxidation and assimilation by 50 to 58% but did not alter the carbon conversion efficiency. Ammonia addition (0.1 or 1.0 (mu)mol g [fresh weight](sup-1)) decreased both methane oxidation and carbon conversion efficiency. This resulted in a dramatic decrease in methane assimilation (85 to 99%). In addition, ammonia-treated soil showed up to 10 times greater turnover of the assimilated methane-derived carbon (relative to untreated soil). The results suggest a potential for microbial growth on atmospheric methane. However, growth was regulated strongly by soil parameters other than the methane concentration. The pattern observed for metabolism of atmospheric methane in soils was not consistent with the physiology of known methanotrophic bacteria.

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