Facultative and Obligate Methanotrophs How to Identify and Differentiate Them

Methods Enzymol. 2011;495:31-44. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-386905-0.00003-6.


Aerobic methanotrophs are metabolically unique bacteria that are able to utilize methane and some other C1-compounds as sole sources of carbon and energy. A defining characteristic of these organisms is the use of methane monooxygenase (MMO) enzymes to catalyze the oxidation of methane to methanol. For a long time, all methanotrophs were considered to be obligately methylotrophic, that is, unable to grow on compounds containing C-C bonds. This notion has recently been revised. Some members of the genera Methylocella, Methylocystis, and Methylocapsa are now known to be facultative methanotrophs, that is, capable of growing on methane as well as on some multicarbon substrates. The diagnosis of facultative methanotrophy in new isolates requires a great degree of caution since methanotrophic cultures are frequently contaminated by heterotrophic bacteria that survive on metabolic by-products of methanotrophs. The presence of only a few satellite cells in a culture may lead to false conclusions regarding substrate utilization, and several early reports of facultative methanotrophy are likely attributable to impure cultures. Another recurring mistake is the misidentification of nonmethanotrophic facultative methylotrophs as facultative methanotrophs. This chapter was prepared as an aid to avoid both kinds of confusion when examining methanotrophic isolates.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / cytology
  • Bacteria / enzymology*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Methane / metabolism*
  • Methylococcaceae / cytology
  • Methylococcaceae / enzymology
  • Methylococcaceae / genetics
  • Methylococcaceae / isolation & purification
  • Methylocystaceae / cytology
  • Methylocystaceae / enzymology
  • Methylocystaceae / genetics
  • Methylocystaceae / isolation & purification
  • Oxygenases / genetics
  • Oxygenases / metabolism*
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics


  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Oxygenases
  • methane monooxygenase
  • Methane