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A marine microbial consortium apparently mediating anaerobic oxidation of methane


A large fraction of globally produced methane is converted to CO2 by anaerobic oxidation in marine sediments1. Strong geochemical evidence for net methane consumption in anoxic sediments is based on methane profiles2, radiotracer experiments3 and stable carbon isotope data4. But the elusive microorganisms mediating this reaction have not yet been isolated, and the pathway of anaerobic oxidation of methane is insufficiently understood. Recent data suggest that certain archaea reverse the process of methanogenesis by interaction with sulphate-reducing bacteria5,6,7. Here we provide microscopic evidence for a structured consortium of archaea and sulphate-reducing bacteria, which we identified by fluorescence in situ hybridization using specific 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes. In this example of a structured archaeal-bacterial symbiosis, the archaea grow in dense aggregates of about 100 cells and are surrounded by sulphate-reducing bacteria. These aggregates were abundant in gas-hydrate-rich sediments with extremely high rates of methane-based sulphate reduction, and apparently mediate anaerobic oxidation of methane.

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Figure 1: Depth profiles of various quantities from methane-rich sediments.
Figure 2: In situ identification of archaea/SRB aggregates with fluorescently labelled rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes.
Figure 3


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The expedition SO143 was performed as part of the program TECFLUX, which addresses geophysical, biogeochemical and hydrographic processes associated with fluid venting from the Cascadia continental margin. The field work of TECFLUX’99 was jointly planned, coordinated and performed by the GEOMAR Research Center for Marine Geosciences at Kiel and the College of Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS) of Oregon State University, Corvallis. We thank these institutions for the invitation to participate. The TECFLUX programme is supported in Germany by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung and in the United States by the National Science Foundation. We thank the officers, crew and shipboard scientific party of RV SONNE for support at sea during the expedition SO-143, P. Linke and M. Elvert for providing some of the sediment samples, A. Kähler, T. Lösekann, H. Löbner and G. Tsounis for help with the SRR measurements, and J. Wulf for help with the micrograph photography. We thank C. Arnosti for corrections to the manuscript, and D. Valentine and W. Reeburgh for showing us their manuscript before publication.

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Correspondence to Antje Boetius.

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Boetius, A., Ravenschlag, K., Schubert, C. et al. A marine microbial consortium apparently mediating anaerobic oxidation of methane. Nature 407, 623–626 (2000).

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