Synergistic interactions in the microbial world

Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. 2002 Aug;81(1-4):257-61. doi: 10.1023/a:1020579004534.


After several decades of microbiological research has focused on pure cultures, synergistic effects between different types of microorganisms find increasing interest. Interspecies interactions between prokaryotic cells have been studied into depth mainly with respect to syntrophic cooperations involved in methanogenic degradation of electron-rich substrates such as fatty acids, alcohols, and aromatics. Partners involved in these processes have to run their metabolism at minimal energy increments, with only fractions of an ATP unit synthesized per substrate molecule metabolized, and their cooperation is intensified by close proximity of the partner cells. New examples of such syntrophic activities are anaerobic methane oxidation by presumably methanogenic and sulfate-reducing prokaryotes, and microbially mediated pyrite formation. Syntrophic relationships have also been discovered to be involved in the anaerobic metabolization of amino acids and sugars where energetical restrictions do not necessarily force the partner organisms into strict interdependencies. The most highly developed cooperative systems among prokaryotic cells appear to be the structurally organized phototrophic consortia of the Chlorochromatium and Pelochromatium type in which phototrophic and chemotrophic bacteria not only exchange metabolites but also interact at the level of growth coordination and tactic behaviour.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / growth & development*
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / metabolism
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Methane / metabolism
  • Sulfides / metabolism
  • Symbiosis*


  • Sulfides
  • pyrite
  • Iron
  • Methane