Formate-Dependent Heterodisulfide Reduction in a Methanomicrobiales Archaeon

Mohd Farid Abdul Halim, Leslie A Day, Kyle C. Costa

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11 Scopus citations


Hydrogenotrophic methanogens produce CH4using H2as an electron donor to reduce CO2. In the absence of H2, many are able to use formate or alcohols as alternate electron donors. Methanogens from the order Methanomicrobiales are capable of growth with H2, but many lack genes encoding hydrogenases that are typically found in other hydrogenotrophic methanogens. In an effort to better understand electron flow in methanogens from the Methanomicrobiales, we undertook a genetic and biochemical study of heterodisulfide reductase (Hdr) in Methanoculleus thermophilus. Hdr catalyzes an essential reaction by coupling the first and last steps of methanogenesis through flavin-based electron bifurcation. Hdr from M. thermophilus copurified with formate dehydrogenase (Fdh) and only displayed activity when formate was supplied as an electron donor. We found no evidence of an Hdr-associated hydrogenase, and H2could not function as an electron donor, even with Hdr purified from cells grown on H2. We found that cells catalyze a formate hydrogenlyase activity that is likely essential for generating the formate needed for the Hdr reaction. Together, these results highlight the importance of formate as an electron donor for methanogenesis and suggest the ability to use formate is closely integrated into the methanogenic pathway in organisms from the order Methanomicrobiales. Importance Methanogens from the order Methanomicrobiales are thought to prefer H2as an electron donor for growth. They are ubiquitous in anaerobic environments, such as in wastewater treatment facilities, anaerobic digesters, and the rumen, where they catalyze the terminal steps in the breakdown of organic matter. However, despite their importance, the metabolism of these organisms remains understudied. Using a genetic and biochemical approach, we show that formate metabolism is closely integrated into methanogenesis in Methanoculleus thermophilus. This is due to a requirement for formate as the electron donor to heterodisulfide reductase (Hdr), an enzyme responsible for catalyzing essential reactions in methanogenesis by linking the initial CO2fixing step to the exergonic terminal reaction of the pathway. These results suggest that hydrogen is not necessarily the preferred electron donor for all hydrogenotrophic methanogens and provide insight into the metabolism of methanogens from the order Methanomicrobiales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02698-20
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

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Copyright © 2021 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.


  • Methanomicrobiales
  • flavin-based electron bifurcation
  • formate dehydrogenase
  • heterodisulfide reductase
  • methanogenesis


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