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The capacity for anaerobic metabolism of endogenous and selected exogenous substrates in carbon- and energy-starved methanotrophic bacteria was examined. The methanotrophic isolate strain WP 12 survived extended starvation under anoxic conditions while metabolizing 10-fold less endogenous substrate than did parallel cultures starved under oxic conditions. During aerobic starvation, the cell biomass decreased by 25% and protein and lipids were the preferred endogenous substrates. Aerobic protein degradation (24% of total protein) took place almost exclusively during the initial 24 h of starvation. Metabolized carbon was recovered mainly as CO2 during aerobic starvation. In contrast, cell biomass decreased by only 2.4% during anaerobic starvation, and metabolized carbon was recovered mainly as organic solutes in the starvation medium. During anaerobic starvation, only the concentration of intracellular low-molecular-weight compounds decreased, whereas no significant changes were measured for cellular protein, lipids, polysaccharides, and nucleic acids. Strain WP 12 was also capable of a limited anaerobic glucose metabolism in the absence of added electron acceptors. Small amounts of CO2 and organic acids, including acetate, were produced from exogenous glucose under anoxic conditions. Addition of potential anaerobic electron acceptors (fumarate, nitrate, nitrite, or sulfate) to starved cultures of the methanotrophs Methylobacter albus BG8, Methylosinus trichosporium OB3b, and strain WP 12 did not stimulate anaerobic survival. However, anaerobic starvation of these bacteria generally resulted in better survival than did aerobic starvation. The results suggest that methanotrophic bacteria can enter a state of anaerobic dormancy accompanied by a severe attenuation of endogenous metabolism. In this state, maintenance requirements are presumably provided for by fermentation of certain endogenous substrates. In addition, low-level catabolism of exogenous substrates may support long-term anaerobic survival of some methanotrophic bacteria.

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology

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