• 16S rRNA;
  • Oligonucleotipde probes;
  • Sulfate-reducing bacteria;
  • Methanogenic archaea;
  • Sediment slurries;
  • Estuarine sediment


Sulphate-reducing bacteria (SRB) and methanogenic archaea (MA) are important anaerobic terminal oxidisers of organic matter. However, we have little knowledge about the distribution and types of SRB and MA in the environment or the functional role they play in situ. Here we have utilised sediment slurry microcosms amended with ecologically significant substrates, including acetate and hydrogen, and specific functional inhibitors, to identify the important SRB and MA groups in two contrasting sites on a UK estuary. Substrate and inhibitor additions had significant effects on methane production and on acetate and sulphate consumption in the slurries. By using specific 16S-targeted oligonucleotide probes we were able to link specific SRB and MA groups to the use of the added substrates. Acetate consumption in the freshwater-dominated sediments was mediated by Methanosarcinales under low-sulphate conditions and Desulfobacter under the high-sulphate conditions that simulated a tidal incursion. In the marine-dominated sediments, acetate consumption was linked to Desulfobacter. Addition of trimethylamine, a non-competitive substrate for methanogenesis, led to a large increase in Methanosarcinales signal in marine slurries. Desulfobulbus was linked to non-sulphate-dependent H2 consumption in the freshwater sediments. The addition of sulphate to freshwater sediments inhibited methane production and reduced signal from probes targeted to Methanosarcinales and Methanomicrobiales, while the addition of molybdate to marine sediments inhibited Desulfobulbus and Desulfobacterium. These data complement our understanding of the ecophysiology of the organisms detected and make a firm connection between the capabilities of species, as observed in the laboratory, to their roles in the environment.