Energy conservation and hydrogenase function in methanogenic archaea, in particular the genus methanosarcina

Thomas D. Mand, William W. Metcalf

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The biological production of methane is vital to the global carbon cycle and accounts for ca. 74% of total methane emissions. The organisms that facilitate this process, methanogenic archaea, belong to a large and phylogenetically diverse group that thrives in a wide range of anaerobic environments. Two main subgroups exist within methanogenic archaea: those with and those without cytochromes. Although a variety of metabolisms exist within this group, the reduction of growth substrates to methane using electrons from molecular hydrogen is, in a phylogenetic sense, the most widespread methanogenic pathway. Methanogens without cytochromes typically generate methane by the reduction of CO2 with electrons derived from H2, formate, or secondary alcohols, generating a transmembrane ion gradient for ATP production via an Na+-translocating methyltransferase (Mtr). These organisms also conserve energy with a novel flavin-based electron bifurcation mechanism, wherein the endergonic reduction of ferredoxin is facilitated by the exergonic reduction of a disulfide terminal electron acceptor coupled to either H2 or formate oxidation. Methanogens that utilize cytochromes have a broader substrate range, and can convert acetate and methylated compounds to methane, in addition to the ability to reduce CO2. Cytochrome-containing methanogens are able to supplement the ion motive force generated by Mtr with an H+-translocating electron transport system. In both groups, enzymes known as hydrogenases, which reversibly interconvert protons and electrons to molecular hydrogen, play a central role in the methanogenic process. This review discusses recent insight into methanogen metabolism and energy conservation mechanisms with a particular focus on the genus Methanosarcina.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0002019
JournalMicrobiology and Molecular Biology Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2019


  • Archaea
  • Energy conservation
  • Hydrogenase
  • Methanogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


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