Sulfate is the predominant electron acceptor for anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) in marine sediments. This process is carried out by a syntrophic consortium of anaerobic methanotrophic archaea (ANME) and sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB) through an energy conservation mechanism that is still poorly understood. It was previously hypothesized that ANME alone could couple methane oxidation to dissimilatory sulfate reduction, but a genetic and biochemical basis for this proposal has not been identified. Using comparative genomic and phylogenetic analyses, we found the genetic capacity in ANME and related methanogenic archaea for sulfate reduction, including sulfate adenylyltransferase, APS kinase, APS/PAPS reductase and two different sulfite reductases. Based on characterized homologs and the lack of associated energy conserving complexes, the sulfate reduction pathways in ANME are likely used for assimilation but not dissimilation of sulfate. Environmental metaproteomic analysis confirmed the expression of 6 proteins in the sulfate assimilation pathway of ANME. The highest expressed proteins related to sulfate assimilation were two sulfite reductases, namely assimilatory-type low-molecular-weight sulfite reductase (alSir) and a divergent group of coenzyme F420-dependent sulfite reductase (Group II Fsr). In methane seep sediment microcosm experiments, however, sulfite and zero-valent sulfur amendments were inhibitory to ANME-2a/2c while growth in their syntrophic SRB partner was not observed. Combined with our genomic and metaproteomic results, the passage of sulfur species by ANME as metabolic intermediates for their SRB partners is unlikely. Instead, our findings point to a possible niche for ANME to assimilate inorganic sulfur compounds more oxidized than sulfide in anoxic marine environments.
The anaerobic oxidation of methane by anaerobic methanotrophic (ANME) archaea in syntrophic partnership with deltaproteobacterial sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) is the primary mechanism for methane removal in ocean sediments. The mechanism of their syntrophy has been the subject of much research as traditional intermediate compounds, such as hydrogen and formate, failed to decouple the partners. Recent findings have indicated the potential for extracellular electron transfer from ANME archaea to SRB, though it is unclear how extracellular electrons are integrated into the metabolism of the SRB partner. We used metagenomics to reconstruct eight genomes from the globally distributed SEEP-SRB1 clade of ANME partner bacteria to determine what genomic features are required for syntrophy. The SEEP-SRB1 genomes contain large multiheme cytochromes that were not found in previously described free-living SRB and also lack periplasmic hydrogenases that may prevent an independent lifestyle without an extracellular source of electrons from ANME archaea. Metaproteomics revealed the expression of these cytochromes at in situ methane seep sediments from three sites along the Pacific coast of the United States. Phylogenetic analysis showed that these cytochromes appear to have been horizontally transferred from metal-respiring members of the Deltaproteobacteria such as Geobacter and may allow these syntrophic SRB to accept extracellular electrons in place of other chemical/organic electron donors.