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Summary

Anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) coupled to sulfate reduction (SR) at marine gas seeps is performed by archaeal-bacterial consortia that have so far not been cultivated in axenic binary or pure cultures. Knowledge about possible biochemical reactions in AOM consortia is based on metagenomic retrieval of genes related to those in archaeal methanogenesis and bacterial sulfate reduction, and identification of a few catabolic enzymes in protein extracts. Whereas the possible enzyme for methane activation (a variant of methyl-coenzyme M reductase, Mcr) was shown to be harboured by the archaea, enzymes for sulfate activation and reduction have not been localized so far. We adopted a novel approach of fluorescent immunolabelling on semi-thin (0.3–0.5 μm) cryosections to localize two enzymes of the SR pathway, adenylyl : sulfate transferase (Sat; ATP sulfurylase) and dissimilatory sulfite reductase (Dsr) in microbial consortia from Black Sea methane seeps. Both Sat and Dsr were exclusively found in an abundant microbial morphotype (c. 50% of all cells), which was tentatively identified as Desulfosarcina/Desulfococcus-related bacteria. These results show that ANME-2 archaea in the Black Sea AOM consortia did not express bacterial enzymes of the canonical sulfate reduction pathway and thus, in contrast to previous suggestions, most likely cannot perform canonical sulfate reduction. Moreover, our results show that fluorescent immunolabelling on semi-thin cryosections which to our knowledge has been so far only applied on cell tissues, is a powerful tool for intracellular protein detection in natural microbial associations.