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Summary

Aerobic methanotrophic bacteria are capable of utilizing methane as their sole energy source. They are commonly found at the oxic/anoxic interfaces of environments such as wetlands, aquatic sediments, and landfills, where they feed on methane produced in anoxic zones of these environments. Until recently, all known species of aerobic methanotrophs belonged to the phylum Proteobacteria, in the classes Gammaproteobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria. However, in 2007–2008 three research groups independently described the isolation of thermoacidophilic methanotrophs that represented a distinct lineage within the bacterial phylum Verrucomicrobia. Isolates were obtained from geothermal areas in Italy, New Zealand and Russia. They are by far the most acidophilic methanotrophs known, with a lower growth limit below pH 1. Here we summarize the properties of these novel methanotrophic Verrucomicrobia, compare them with the proteobacterial methanotrophs, propose a unified taxonomic framework for them and speculate on their potential environmental significance. New genomic and physiological data are combined with existing information to allow detailed comparison of the three strains. We propose the new genus Methylacidiphilum to encompass all three newly discovered bacteria.