Methanogens—anaerobic microbes that perform the final step of biomass degradation in the carbon cycle—convert carbon dioxide or monoxide, acetate, methanol, methyl-sulfides and methylamines into methane as part of their core metabolic system. They represent an integral piece of the global carbon cycle as an estimated 350 million tons of methane are produced yearly by methanogens. Methanosarcina acetivorans and M. barkeri, two versatile methanogens integral to the global carbon cycle, are capable of growing on over eight different carbon sources, various salt conditions and are known to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Furthermore, they have been identified in syntrophic relationships with sulfur and iron reducing bacteria, and there is potential that they could be combined with other microbes to facilitate the final degradation of biomass waste into usable and storable bioenergy in the form of methane. Study of their metabolism and regulation is important for understanding how we could apply them to production of biofuels and their effect on the environment. A key step in achieving this goal is characterizing how the organisms function as single cells and in conjunction with others in communities. The models and data will vastly expand our knowledge of methanogens. Particularly, they may be used to identify strategies to maximize biofuel production. More generally, models will provide means to understand how cells grow and differentiate in the context of a world where competition and cooperation are two sides of the same coin.
Proposer’s Name: Zaida Luthey-Schulten