Interspecies Formate Exchange Drives Syntrophic Growth of Syntrophotalea carbinolica and Methanococcus maripaludis

Leslie A. Day, Elisa L. Kelsey, Dallas R. Fonseca, Kyle C. Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The complete remineralization of organic matter in anoxic environments relies on communities of microorganisms that ferment organic acids and alcohols to CH4. This is accomplished through syntrophic association of H2 or formate producing bacteria and methanogenic archaea, where exchange of these intermediates enables growth of both organisms. While these communities are essential to Earth’s carbon cycle, our understanding of the dynamics of H2 or formate exchanged is limited. Here, we establish a model partnership between Syntrophotalea carbinolica and Methanococcus maripaludis. Through sequencing a transposon mutant library of M. maripaludis grown with ethanol oxidizing S. carbinolica, we found that genes encoding the F420-dependent formate dehydrogenase (Fdh) and F420dependent methylene-tetrahydromethanopterin dehydrogenase (Mtd) are important for growth. Competitive growth of M. maripaludis mutants defective in either H2 or formate metabolism verified that, across multiple substrates, interspecies formate exchange was dominant in these communities. Agitation of these cultures to facilitate diffusive loss of H2 to the culture headspace resulted in an even greater competitive advantage for M. maripaludis strains capable of oxidizing formate. Finally, we verified that an M. maripaludis Dmtd mutant had a defect during syntrophic growth. Together, these results highlight the importance of formate exchange for the growth of methanogens under syntrophic conditions. IMPORTANCE In the environment, methane is typically generated by fermentative bacteria and methanogenic archaea working together in a process called syntrophy. Efficient exchange of small molecules like H2 or formate is essential for growth of both organisms. However, difficulties in determining the relative contribution of these intermediates to methanogenesis often hamper efforts to understand syntrophic interactions. Here, we establish a model syntrophic coculture composed of S. carbinolica and the genetically tractable methanogen M. maripaludis. Using mutant strains of M. maripaludis that are defective for either H2 or formate metabolism, we determined that interspecies formate exchange drives syntrophic growth of these organisms. Together, these results advance our understanding of the degradation of organic matter in anoxic environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank William Whitman for providing the transposon mutant library used in this study and Jon Badalamenti for helpful discussions. This work was supported by the U.S.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.


  • formate
  • metabolism
  • methanogenesis
  • syntrophy

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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