Nitrite-driven anaerobic methane oxidation by oxygenic bacteria

Nature. 2010 Mar 25;464(7288):543-8. doi: 10.1038/nature08883.


Only three biological pathways are known to produce oxygen: photosynthesis, chlorate respiration and the detoxification of reactive oxygen species. Here we present evidence for a fourth pathway, possibly of considerable geochemical and evolutionary importance. The pathway was discovered after metagenomic sequencing of an enrichment culture that couples anaerobic oxidation of methane with the reduction of nitrite to dinitrogen. The complete genome of the dominant bacterium, named 'Candidatus Methylomirabilis oxyfera', was assembled. This apparently anaerobic, denitrifying bacterium encoded, transcribed and expressed the well-established aerobic pathway for methane oxidation, whereas it lacked known genes for dinitrogen production. Subsequent isotopic labelling indicated that 'M. oxyfera' bypassed the denitrification intermediate nitrous oxide by the conversion of two nitric oxide molecules to dinitrogen and oxygen, which was used to oxidize methane. These results extend our understanding of hydrocarbon degradation under anoxic conditions and explain the biochemical mechanism of a poorly understood freshwater methane sink. Because nitrogen oxides were already present on early Earth, our finding opens up the possibility that oxygen was available to microbial metabolism before the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anaerobiosis*
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics
  • Methane / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nitrites / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Oxygenases / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Soil Microbiology


  • Nitrites
  • Oxygenases
  • methane monooxygenase
  • Methane
  • Oxygen

Associated data

  • GENBANK/FP565575
  • GEO/GSE18535