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Environ Microbiol. 2012 Jul;14(7):1646-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2011.02611.x. Epub 2011 Oct 18.

Methanogenesis facilitated by electric syntrophy via (semi)conductive iron-oxide minerals.

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Hashimoto Light Energy Conversion Project, ERATO, JST, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.


Methanogenesis is an essential part of the global carbon cycle and a key bioprocess for sustainable energy. Methanogenesis from organic matter is accomplished by syntrophic interactions among different species of microbes, in which interspecies electron transfer (IET) via diffusive carriers (e.g. hydrogen and formate) is known to be the bottleneck step. We report herein that the supplementation of soil microbes with (semi)conductive iron-oxide minerals creates unique interspecies interactions and facilitates methanogenesis. Methanogenic microbes were enriched from rice paddy field soil with either acetate or ethanol as a substrate in the absence or presence of (semi)conductive iron oxides (haematite or magnetite). We found that the supplementation with either of these iron oxides resulted in the acceleration of methanogenesis in terms of lag time and production rate, while the supplementation with an insulative iron oxide (ferrihydrite) did not. Clone-library analyses of 16S rRNA gene fragments PCR-amplified from the enrichment cultures revealed that the iron-oxide supplementation stimulated the growth of Geobacter spp. Furthermore, the addition of a specific inhibitor for methanogenesis suppressed the growth of Geobacter spp. These results suggest that Geobacter grew under syntrophic association with methanogens, and IET could occur via electric currents through (semi)conductive iron-oxide minerals (termed 'electric syntrophy'). Given the ubiquity of conductive minerals in nature, such energetic interactions may occur widely in soil and sediments and can be used to develop efficient bioenergy processes.

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