National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Hydrogen-limited growth of hyperthermophilic methanogens at deep-sea hydrothermal vents

Ver Eecke, H.C., D.A. Butterfield, J.A. Huber, M.D. Lilley, E.J. Olson, K.K. Roe, L.J. Evans, A.Y. Merkel, H.V. Cantin, and J.F. Holden

Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 109(34), 13674–13679, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1206632109 (2012)

Microbial productivity at hydrothermal vents is among the highest found anywhere in the deep ocean, but constraints on microbial growth and metabolism at vents are lacking. We used a combination of cultivation, molecular, and geochemical tools to verify pure culture H2 threshold measurements for hyperthermophilic methanogenesis in low-temperature hydrothermal fluids from Axial Volcano and Endeavour Segment in the northeastern Pacific Ocean. Two Methanocaldococcus strains from Axial and Methanocaldococcus jannaschii showed similar Monod growth kinetics when grown in a bioreactor at varying H2 concentrations. Their H2 half-saturation value was 66 μM, and growth ceased below 17–23 μM H2, 10-fold lower than previously predicted. By comparison, measured H2 and CH4 concentrations in fluids suggest that there was generally sufficient H2 for Methanocaldococcus growth at Axial but not at Endeavour. Fluids from one vent at Axial (Marker 113) had anomalously high CH4 concentrations and contained various thermal classes of methanogens based on cultivation and mcrA/mrtA analyses. At Endeavour, methanogens were largely undetectable in fluid samples based on cultivation and molecular screens, although abundances of hyperthermophilic heterotrophs were relatively high. Where present, Methanocaldococcus genes were the predominant mcrA/mrtA sequences recovered and comprised ∼0.2–6% of the total archaeal community. Field and coculture data suggest that H2 limitation may be partly ameliorated by H2 syntrophy with hyperthermophilic heterotrophs. These data support our estimated H2 threshold for hyperthermophilic methanogenesis at vents and highlight the need for coupled laboratory and field measurements to constrain microbial distribution and biogeochemical impacts in the deep sea.

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