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ISME J. 2010 Mar;4(3):388-98. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2009.117. Epub 2009 Nov 19.

Functioning in situ: gene expression in Methylotenera mobilis in its native environment as assessed through transcriptomics.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Methylotrophs, organisms able to gain energy and carbon from compounds containing no carbon-carbon bonds, such as methane, methanol and methylated amines, are widespread in nature. However, knowledge of their nutrient preference and their metabolism is mostly based on experiments with cultures grown in defined laboratory conditions. Here, we use transcriptomics to explore the activity of one methylotroph, Methyotenera mobilis in its natural environment, lake sediment from which it has been previously isolated. Cells encapsulated in incubation cassettes were exposed to sediment conditions, with or without supplementation with a carbon/energy source (methylamine), and gene-expression patterns were compared for those cells to patterns for cells incubated in a defined medium supplemented with methylamine. A few specific trends in gene expression were observed at in situ conditions that may be of environmental significance, as follows. Expression of genes for the linear formaldehyde oxidation pathway linked to tetrahydromethanopterin increased, suggesting an important role for this pathway in situ, in contrast to laboratory condition culture, in which the cyclic ribulose monophosphate pathway seemed to be the major route for formaldehyde oxidation. Along with the ribulose monophosphate cycle that is also a major pathway for assimilating C(1) units, the methylcitric acid cycle seemd to be important in situ, suggesting that multicarbon compounds may be the natural carbon and/or energy substrates for M. mobilis, challenging the notion of an obligately methylotrophic lifestyle for this bacterium. We also detected a major switch in expression of genes responsible for the mode of motility between different conditions: from flagellum-enabled motility in defined medium to in situ expression of pili known to be involved in twitching motility and adherence. Overall, this study offers a novel approach for gaining insights into the lifestyle of individual microbes in their native environments.

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