Genetic, biochemical, and molecular characterization of methanosarcina barkeri mutants lacking three distinct classes of hydrogenase

Thomas D. Mand, Gargi Kulkarni, William W. Metcalf

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The methanogenic archaeon Methanosarcina barkeri encodes three distinct types of hydrogenase, whose functions vary depending on the growth substrate. These include the F420-dependent (Frh), methanophenazine-dependent (Vht), and ferredoxin-dependent (Ech) hydrogenases. To investigate their physiological roles, we characterized a series of mutants lacking each hydrogenase in various combinations. Mutants lacking Frh, Vht, or Ech in any combination failed to grow on H2-CO2, whereas only Vht and Ech were essential for growth on acetate. In contrast, a mutant lacking all three grew on methanol with a final growth yield similar to that of the wild type and produced methane and CO2 in the expected 3:1 ratio but had a ca. 33% lower growth rate. Thus, hydrogenases play a significant, but nonessential, role during growth on this substrate. As previously observed, mutants lacking Ech failed to grow on methanol-H2 unless they were supplemented with biosynthetic precursors. Interestingly, this phenotype was abolished in the Δech Δfrh and Δech Δfrh Δvht mutants, consistent with the idea that hydrogenases inhibit methanol oxidation in the presence of H2, which prevents production of the reducing equivalents needed for biosynthesis. Quantification of the methane and CO2 produced from methanol by resting cell suspensions of various mutants supported this conclusion. On the basis of the global transcriptional profiles, none of the hydrogenases were upregulated to compensate for the loss of the others. However, the transcript levels of the F420 dehydrogenase operon were significantly higher in all strains lacking frh, suggesting a mechanism to sense the redox state of F420. The roles of the hydrogenases in energy conservation during growth with each methanogenic pathway are discussed. IMPORTANCE Methanogenic archaea are key players in the global carbon cycle due to their ability to facilitate the remineralization of organic substrates in many anaerobic environments. The consequences of biological methanogenesis are far-reaching, with impacts on atmospheric methane and CO2 concentrations, agriculture, energy production, waste treatment, and human health. The data presented here clarify the in vivo function of hydrogenases during methanogenesis, which in turn deepens our understanding of this unique form of metabolism. This knowledge is critical for a variety of important issues ranging from atmospheric composition to human health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00342
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018


  • Hydrogenases
  • Methane
  • Methanogenesis
  • Methanosarcina

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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