mSphere 2017 Jul-Aug;2(4). Epub 2017 Aug 23.
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Biological methane oxidation is a globally relevant process that mediates the flux of an important greenhouse gas through both aerobic and anaerobic metabolic pathways. However, measuring these metabolic rates presents many obstacles, from logistical barriers to regulatory hurdles and poor precision. Here we present a new approach for investigating microbial methane metabolism based on hydrogen atom dynamics, which is complementary to carbon-focused assessments of methanotrophy. The method uses monodeuterated methane (CHD) as a metabolic substrate, quantifying the aqueous D/H ratio over time using off-axis integrated cavity output spectroscopy. This approach represents a nontoxic, comparatively rapid, and straightforward approach that supplements existing radiotopic and stable carbon isotopic methods; by probing hydrogen atoms, it offers an additional dimension for examining rates and pathways of methane metabolism. We provide direct comparisons between the CHD procedure and the well-established CH radiotracer method for several methanotrophic systems, including type I and II aerobic methanotroph cultures and methane-seep sediment slurries and carbonate rocks under anoxic and oxic incubation conditions. In all applications tested, methane consumption values calculated via the CHD method were directly and consistently proportional to C radiolabel-derived methane oxidation rates. We also employed this method in a nontraditional experimental setup, using flexible, gas-impermeable bags to investigate the role of pressure on seep sediment methane oxidation rates. Results revealed an 80% increase over atmospheric pressure in methanotrophic rates the equivalent of ~900-m water depth, highlighting the importance of this parameter on methane metabolism and exhibiting the flexibility of the newly described method. Microbial methane consumption is a critical component of the global carbon cycle, with wide-ranging implications for climate regulation and hydrocarbon exploitation. Nonetheless, quantifying methane metabolism typically involves logistically challenging methods and/or specialized equipment; these impediments have limited our understanding of methane fluxes and reservoirs in natural systems, making effective management difficult. Here, we offer an easily implementable, precise method using monodeuterated methane (CHD) that advances three specific aims. First, it allows users to directly compare methane consumption rates between different experimental treatments of the same inoculum. Second, by empirically linking the CHD procedure with the well-established C radiocarbon approach, we determine absolute scaling factors that facilitate rate measurements for several aerobic and anaerobic systems of interest. Third, CHD represents a helpful tool in evaluating the relationship between methane activation and full oxidation in methanotrophic metabolisms. The procedural advantages, consistency, and novel research questions enabled by the CHD method should prove useful in a wide range of culture-based and environmental microbial systems to further elucidate methane metabolism dynamics.