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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2017 Aug 31;83(18). pii: e00950-17. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00950-17. Print 2017 Sep 15.

Physiological Evidence for Isopotential Tunneling in the Electron Transport Chain of Methane-Producing Archaea.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Department of Biochemistry, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA


Many, but not all, organisms use quinones to conserve energy in their electron transport chains. Fermentative bacteria and methane-producing archaea (methanogens) do not produce quinones but have devised other ways to generate ATP. Methanophenazine (MPh) is a unique membrane electron carrier found in Methanosarcina species that plays the same role as quinones in the electron transport chain. To extend the analogy between quinones and MPh, we compared the MPh pool sizes between two well-studied Methanosarcina species, Methanosarcina acetivorans C2A and Methanosarcina barkeri Fusaro, to the quinone pool size in the bacterium Escherichia coli We found the quantity of MPh per cell increases as cultures transition from exponential growth to stationary phase, and absolute quantities of MPh were 3-fold higher in M. acetivorans than in M. barkeri The concentration of MPh suggests the cell membrane of M. acetivorans, but not of M. barkeri, is electrically quantized as if it were a single conductive metal sheet and near optimal for rate of electron transport. Similarly, stationary (but not exponentially growing) E. coli cells also have electrically quantized membranes on the basis of quinone content. Consistent with our hypothesis, we demonstrated that the exogenous addition of phenazine increases the growth rate of M. barkeri three times that of M. acetivorans Our work suggests electron flux through MPh is naturally higher in M. acetivorans than in M. barkeri and that hydrogen cycling is less efficient at conserving energy than scalar proton translocation using MPh.IMPORTANCE Can we grow more from less? The ability to optimize and manipulate metabolic efficiency in cells is the difference between commercially viable and nonviable renewable technologies. Much can be learned from methane-producing archaea (methanogens) which evolved a successful metabolic lifestyle under extreme thermodynamic constraints. Methanogens use highly efficient electron transport systems and supramolecular complexes to optimize electron and carbon flow to control biomass synthesis and the production of methane. Worldwide, methanogens are used to generate renewable methane for heat, electricity, and transportation. Our observations suggest Methanosarcina acetivorans, but not Methanosarcina barkeri, has electrically quantized membranes. Escherichia coli, a model facultative anaerobe, has optimal electron transport at the stationary phase but not during exponential growth. This study also suggests the metabolic efficiency of bacteria and archaea can be improved using exogenously supplied lipophilic electron carriers. The enhancement of methanogen electron transport through methanophenazine has the potential to increase renewable methane production at an industrial scale.


Escherichia coli; Methanosarcina; archaea; bioenergetics; electron transport; membrane biophysics; methanogens; methanophenazines; phenazines; quinones

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