Molecular characterization of microbial communities in deep coal seam groundwater of northern Japan


Corresponding author: S. Shimizu, Tel.: (81) 1632 94 112; fax: (81) 1632 94 113; e-mail:


We investigated microbial methanogenesis and community structure based on 16S rRNA gene sequences from a coal seam aquifer located 843–907 m below ground level in northern Japan; additionally, we studied the δ13C and δ2H (δD) of coal-bed gases and other physicochemical parameters. Although isotopic analysis suggested a thermocatalytic origin for the gases, the microbial activity and community structure strongly implied the existence of methanogenic microbial communities in situ. Methane was generated in the enrichment cultures of the hydrogenotrophic and methylotrophic microorganisms obtained from coal seam groundwater. Methanogen clones dominated the archaeal 16S rRNA gene libraries and were mostly related to the hydrogenotrophic genus Methanoculleus and the methylotrophic genus Methanolobus. Bacterial 16S rRNA gene libraries were dominated by the clones related to the genera Acetobacterium and Syntrophus which have a symbiotic association with methanogens. LIBSHUFF analysis revealed that N2 gas injected into the coal seam (for enhanced methane production) does not affect the coverage of archaeal and bacterial populations. However, amova analysis does provide evidence for a change in the genetic diversity of archaeal populations that are dominated by methanogens. Therefore, N2 injection into the coal seam might affect the cycling of matter by methanogens in situ.