The missing enzymatic link in syntrophic methane formation from fatty acids

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Oct 5;118(40):e2111682118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2111682118.


The microbial production of methane from organic matter is an essential process in the global carbon cycle and an important source of renewable energy. It involves the syntrophic interaction between methanogenic archaea and bacteria that convert primary fermentation products such as fatty acids to the methanogenic substrates acetate, H2, CO2, or formate. While the concept of syntrophic methane formation was developed half a century ago, the highly endergonic reduction of CO2 to methane by electrons derived from β-oxidation of saturated fatty acids has remained hypothetical. Here, we studied a previously noncharacterized membrane-bound oxidoreductase (EMO) from Syntrophus aciditrophicus containing two heme b cofactors and 8-methylmenaquinone as key redox components of the redox loop-driven reduction of CO2 by acyl-coenzyme A (CoA). Using solubilized EMO and proteoliposomes, we reconstituted the entire electron transfer chain from acyl-CoA to CO2 and identified the transfer from a high- to a low-potential heme b with perfectly adjusted midpoint potentials as key steps in syntrophic fatty acid oxidation. The results close our gap of knowledge in the conversion of biomass into methane and identify EMOs as key players of β-oxidation in (methyl)menaquinone-containing organisms.

Keywords: diheme oxidoreductase; methylmenaquinone; microbial methane formation; redox loop; syntrophy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetates / metabolism
  • Acyl Coenzyme A / metabolism
  • Archaea / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Deltaproteobacteria / metabolism*
  • Electron Transport / physiology
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Fermentation / physiology
  • Formates / metabolism
  • Methane / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism


  • Acetates
  • Acyl Coenzyme A
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Fatty Acids
  • Formates
  • formic acid
  • Oxidoreductases
  • Methane

Supplementary concepts

  • Syntrophus aciditrophicus