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Methane-dependent selenate reduction by a bacterial consortium


Methanotrophic microorganisms play a critical role in controlling the flux of methane from natural sediments into the atmosphere. Methanotrophs have been shown to couple the oxidation of methane to the reduction of diverse electron acceptors (e.g., oxygen, sulfate, nitrate, and metal oxides), either independently or in consortia with other microbial partners. Although several studies have reported the phenomenon of methane oxidation linked to selenate reduction, neither the microorganisms involved nor the underlying trophic interaction has been clearly identified. Here, we provide the first detailed evidence for interspecies electron transfer between bacterial populations in a bioreactor community where the reduction of selenate is linked to methane oxidation. Metagenomic and metaproteomic analyses of the community revealed a novel species of Methylocystis as the most abundant methanotroph, which actively expressed proteins for oxygen-dependent methane oxidation and fermentation pathways, but lacked the genetic potential for selenate reduction. Pseudoxanthomonas, Piscinibacter, and Rhodocyclaceae populations appeared to be responsible for the observed selenate reduction using proteins initially annotated as periplasmic nitrate reductases, with fermentation by-products released by the methanotrophs as electron donors. The ability for the annotated nitrate reductases to reduce selenate was confirmed by gene knockout studies in an isolate of Pseudoxanthomonas. Overall, this study provides novel insights into the metabolic flexibility of the aerobic methanotrophs that likely allows them to thrive across natural oxygen gradients, and highlights the potential role for similar microbial consortia in linking methane and other biogeochemical cycles in environments where oxygen is limited.

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Fig. 1: Kinetics of methane oxidation linked to selenate reduction.
Fig. 2: Phylogeny of the DMSO reductase superfamily.
Fig. 3: Physiology comparison of the wild-type and mutant strains of Pseudoxanthomonas.
Fig. 4: Selenate reduction in the presence of different electron donors.
Fig. 5: Metabolic pathway linking methane oxidation to selenate reduction by bacterial consortia.

Data availability

All raw Illumina metagenomic sequence data were submitted to the Sequence Read Archive under accession numbers SRP136677, SRP136696, SRP136790, and SRP136859. The 16S rRNA gene sequences generated from the wetland inoculum were submitted under the accession number SRR14328346. The mass spectrometry proteomics data have been deposited to the ProteomeXchange Consortium via the PRIDE [82] partner repository with the dataset identifier PXD011889. Public release of the PRIDE projects will be requested as soon as a citable pre-print is online. The username and password of temporary reviewer account are: and Y5JAcO59, respectively.


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The authors greatly thank the “National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 51878596, 21577123)”, the “Natural Science Funds for Distinguished Young Scholar of Zhejiang Province (LR17B070001)”, and the National Key Technology R&D Program (2018YFC1802203)” for their financial support. A.K. and M.S. are supported by NSERC, CFI, CFREF and the Government of Alberta. GWT and S.M are supported by Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowships (FT170100070 and FT190100211, respectively). The authors also thank Dr. Erica M. Hartmann for her assistance in manuscript preparation.

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LDS designed the study, performed the experiments, collected and analyzed the data, evaluated and arranged the results, and drafted the manuscript; LPL, ZW, and CYL characterized the reduction product and collected the data; SJM performed FISH, analyzed the results, and contributed to the manuscript preparation; XLD helped to analyze the metagenomic data; AK performed proteomics and analyzed the data; GWT and MS helped to analyze and discuss the results, and contributed to the manuscript preparation; HPZ initiated and supervised the project, conceived the experiments, and wrote the manuscript; all authors contributed to revising the manuscript.

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Correspondence to He-Ping Zhao.

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Shi, LD., Lv, PL., McIlroy, S.J. et al. Methane-dependent selenate reduction by a bacterial consortium. ISME J (2021).

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