Electron transfer in syntrophic communities of anaerobic bacteria and archaea

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2009 Aug;7(8):568-77. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2166.


Interspecies electron transfer is a key process in methanogenic and sulphate-reducing environments. Bacteria and archaea that live in syntrophic communities take advantage of the metabolic abilities of their syntrophic partner to overcome energy barriers and break down compounds that they cannot digest by themselves. Here, we review the transfer of hydrogen and formate between bacteria and archaea that helps to sustain growth in syntrophic methanogenic communities. We also describe the process of reverse electron transfer, which is a key requirement in obligately syntrophic interactions. Anaerobic methane oxidation coupled to sulphate reduction is also carried out by syntrophic communities of bacteria and archaea but, as we discuss, the exact mechanism of this syntrophic interaction is not yet understood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anaerobiosis
  • Archaea / growth & development
  • Archaea / metabolism*
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / growth & development
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / metabolism*
  • Electron Transport
  • Formates / metabolism
  • Hydrogen / metabolism*
  • Methane / metabolism*
  • Protons*


  • Formates
  • Protons
  • formic acid
  • Hydrogen
  • Methane