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Microbes Environ. 2014;29(2):162-7. Epub 2014 Jun 10.

Physiological and transcriptomic analyses of the thermophilic, aceticlastic methanogen Methanosaeta thermophila responding to ammonia stress.

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Bioproduction Research Institute, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).


The inhibitory effects of ammonia on two different degradation pathways of methanogenic acetate were evaluated using a pure culture (Methanosaeta thermophila strain PT) and defined co-culture (Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus strain TM and Thermacetogenium phaeum strain PB), which represented aceticlastic and syntrophic methanogenesis, respectively. Growth experiments with high concentrations of ammonia clearly demonstrated that sensitivity to ammonia stress was markedly higher in M. thermophila PT than in the syntrophic co-culture. M. thermophila PT also exhibited higher sensitivity to high pH stress, which indicated that an inability to maintain pH homeostasis is an underlying cause of ammonia inhibition. Methanogenesis was inhibited in the resting cells of M. thermophila PT with moderate concentrations of ammonia, suggesting that the inhibition of enzymes involved in methanogenesis may be one of the major factors responsible for ammonia toxicity. Transcriptomic analysis revealed a broad range of disturbances in M. thermophila PT cells under ammonia stress conditions, including protein denaturation, oxidative stress, and intracellular cation imbalances. The results of the present study clearly demonstrated that syntrophic acetate degradation dominated over aceticlastic methanogenesis under ammonia stress conditions, which is consistent with the findings of previous studies on complex microbial community systems. Our results also imply that the co-existence of multiple metabolic pathways and their different sensitivities to stress factors confer resiliency on methanogenic processes.

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