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Physiology, Ecology, Phylogeny, and Genomics of Microorganisms Capable of Syntrophic Metabolism


Address for correspondence: Michael J. McInerney, Department of Botany and Microbiology, University of Oklahoma, 770 Van Vleet Oval, Norman, OK 73019. Voice: 405-325-6050; fax: 405-325-7619.


Syntrophic metabolism is diverse in two respects: phylogenetically with microorganisms capable of syntrophic metabolism found in the Deltaproteobacteria and in the low G+C gram-positive bacteria, and metabolically given the wide variety of compounds that can be syntrophically metabolized. The latter includes saturated fatty acids, unsaturated fatty acids, alcohols, and hydrocarbons. Besides residing in freshwater and marine anoxic sediments and soils, microbes capable of syntrophic metabolism also have been observed in more extreme habitats, including acidic soils, alkaline soils, thermal springs, and permanently cold soils, demonstrating that syntrophy is a widely distributed metabolic process in nature. Recent ecological and physiological studies show that syntrophy plays a far larger role in carbon cycling than was previously thought. The availability of the first complete genome sequences for four model microorganisms capable of syntrophic metabolism provides the genetic framework to begin dissecting the biochemistry of the marginal energy economies and interspecies interactions that are characteristic of the syntrophic lifestyle.