Physiological basis for atmospheric methane oxidation and methanotrophic growth on air

Tilman Schmider (Corresponding author), Anne Grethe Hestnes, Julia Brzykcy, Hannes Schmidt, Arno Schintlmeister, Benjamin R K Roller, Ezequiel Jesús Teran, Andrea Söllinger, Oliver Schmidt, Martin F Polz, Andreas Richter, Mette M Svenning, Alexander T Tveit

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


Atmospheric methane oxidizing bacteria (atmMOB) constitute the sole biological sink for atmospheric methane. Still, the physiological basis allowing atmMOB to grow on air is not well understood. Here we assess the ability and strategies of seven methanotrophic species to grow with air as sole energy, carbon, and nitrogen source. Four species, including three outside the canonical atmMOB group USCα, enduringly oxidized atmospheric methane, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen during 12 months of growth on air. These four species exhibited distinct substrate preferences implying the existence of multiple metabolic strategies to grow on air. The estimated energy yields of the atmMOB were substantially lower than previously assumed necessary for cellular maintenance in atmMOB and other aerobic microorganisms. Moreover, the atmMOB also covered their nitrogen requirements from air. During growth on air, the atmMOB decreased investments in biosynthesis while increasing investments in trace gas oxidation. Furthermore, we confirm that a high apparent specific affinity for methane is a key characteristic of atmMOB. Our work shows that atmMOB grow on the trace concentrations of methane, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen present in air and outlines the metabolic strategies that enable atmMOB to mitigate greenhouse gases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4151
Number of pages15
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Early online date16 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 May 2024

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 106026 Ecosystem research
  • 106022 Microbiology


  • Methane/metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Carbon Monoxide/metabolism
  • Hydrogen/metabolism
  • Atmosphere/chemistry
  • Air
  • Nitrogen/metabolism
  • Greenhouse Gases/metabolism

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