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Keywords:

  • Biogas;
  • Methane monooxygenase inhibition;
  • Methane-utilizing mixed culture;
  • Poly-β-hydroxybutyrate;
  • Trichloroethylene degradation

Abstract

Methanotrophic bacteria possess a unique set of enzymes enabling them to oxidize, degrade and transform organic molecules and synthesize new compounds. Therefore, they have great potential in environmental biotechnology. The application of these unique properties was demonstrated in three case studies: (i) Methane escaping from leaky gas pipes may lead to massive mortality of trees in urban areas. Lack of oxygen within the soil surrounding tree roots caused by methanotrophic activity was identified as one of the reasons for this phenomenon. The similarity between metabolic reactions performed by the key enzymes of methanotrophs (methane monooxygenase) and ammonium oxidizers (ammonium monooxygenase) might offer a solution to this problem by applying commercially available nitrification and urease inhibitors. (ii) Methanotrophs are able to co-metabolically degrade contaminants such as low-molecular-weight-chlorinated hydrocarbons in soil and water in the presence of methane. Batch and continuous trichloroethylene degradation experiments in laboratory-scale reactors using Methylocystis sp. GB 14 were performed, partly with cells entrapped in a polymer matrix. (iii) Using a short, two-stage pilot-scale process, the intracellular polymer accumulation of poly-β-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) in methanotrophs reached a maximum of 52%. Interestingly, an ultra-high-molecular-weight PHB of 3.1 MDa was accumulated under potassium deficiency. Under strictly controlled conditions (temperature, pH and methane supply) this process can be nonsterile because of the establishment of a stable microbial community (dominant species Methylocystis sp. GB 25 ≥86% by biomass). The possibility to substitute methane with biogas from renewable sources facilitates the development of a methane-based PHB production process that yields a high-quality biopolymer at competitive costs.