New extreme micro-organisms found in Siberian soda lake

Professor Peter Golyshin of the School of Biological Sciences, and expert in environmental genomics of microorganisms is the only UK author and participant in research which has discovered a new class of micro-organisms (archaea) that live in the extreme environment of a Siberian alkaline soda lake. What makes this discovery ground-breaking is that these micro-organisms can convert organic material directly into methane under such extreme conditions.

The paper is published today (26.5.17) in Nature Microbiology.

Prof Golyshin explains: “Microbes, which produce methane, an important greenhouse gas, are abundant on our planet. Up until this discovery, it was not thought that they existed in extreme high-salt environments. In this study however, we revealed a new class of archaea,  which are very distinct from classical methanogens,  and are able to produce methane under high alkalinity, high salt and elevated temperature conditions. This study has expanded our knowledge of the range of environments where methane can be produced, and revised our view on the origin and evolution of mechanisms of methanogenesis.”

According to the authors, in the future, these newly discovered organisms could also play a role in the production of methane from organic waste. The big advantage is that, at the high pH, CO2 remains in the solution. Therefore, methane gas can be produced, instead of biogas, which mainly contains both methane and CO2. Currently, biogas still has to be upgraded to natural gas quality, suitable for utilization it in gas networks. Bypassing this upgrading process would save a lot of energy.

Prof Golyshin’s contribution was to analyse the genomes of these new organisms and the expression of pathways for methanogenesis using the proteomics. 

The publication in Nature Microbiology is a cooperation between Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands), the Winogradsky Institute of Microbiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow (Russia), the National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda (USA), the Institute of Catalysis, CSIC, and the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología, Madrid (Spain), Bangor University (UK) and the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität, Bonn (Germany). 

 'Discovery of extremely halophilic, methyl-reducing euryarchaea provides insights into the evolutionary origin of methanogenesis'

Publication date: 26 May 2017