Applied and Environmental Microbiology 88(11) , e02109-21 ( 2022)
Syntrophic consortia of anaerobic methanotrophic archaea (ANME) and sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) consume large amounts of methane and serve as the foundational microorganisms in marine methane seeps. Despite their importance in the carbon cycle, research on the physiology of ANME-SRB consortia has been hampered by the slow growth and complex physicochemical environment the consortia inhabit. Here, we report successful sediment-free enrichment of ANME-SRB consortia from deep-sea methane seep sediments in the Santa Monica Basin, California. Anoxic Percoll density gradients and size-selective filtration were used to separate ANME-SRB consortia from sediment particles and single cells to accelerate the cultivation process. Over a 3-year period, a subset of the sediment-associated ANME and SRB lineages, predominantly comprised of ANME-2a/2b (“Candidatus Methanocomedenaceae”) and their syntrophic bacterial partners, SEEP-SRB1/2, adapted and grew under defined laboratory conditions. Metagenome-assembled genomes from several enrichments revealed that ANME-2a, SEEP-SRB1, and Methanococcoides in different enrichments from the same inoculum represented distinct species, whereas other coenriched microorganisms were closely related at the species level. This suggests that ANME, SRB, and Methanococcoides are more genetically diverse than other members in methane seeps. Flow cytometry sorting and sequencing of cell aggregates revealed that Methanococcoides, Anaerolineales, and SEEP-SRB1 were overrepresented in multiple ANME-2a cell aggregates relative to the bulk metagenomes, suggesting they were physically associated and possibly interacting. Overall, this study represents a successful case of selective cultivation of anaerobic slow-growing microorganisms from sediments based on their physical characteristics, introducing new opportunities for detailed genomic, physiological, biochemical, and ecological analyses. IMPORTANCE Biological anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) coupled with sulfate reduction represents a large methane sink in global ocean sediments. Methane consumption is carried out by syntrophic archaeal-bacterial consortia and fuels a unique ecosystem, yet the interactions in these slow-growing syntrophic consortia and with other associated community members remain poorly understood. The significance of this study is the establishment of sediment-free enrichment cultures of anaerobic methanotrophic archaea and sulfate-reducing bacteria performing AOM with sulfate using selective cultivation approaches based on size, density, and metabolism. By reconstructing microbial genomes and analyzing community composition of the enrichment cultures and cell aggregates, we shed light on the diversity of microorganisms physically associated with AOM consortia beyond the core syntrophic partners. These enrichment cultures offer simplified model systems to extend our understanding of the diversity of microbial interactions within marine methane seeps.