Physiological evidence for isopotential tunneling in the electron transport chain of methane-producing archaea

Nikolas Duszenko, Nicole R. Buan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Many, but not all, organisms use quinones to conserve energy in their electron transport chains. Fermentative bacteria and methane-producing archaea (methanogens) do not produce quinones but have devised other ways to generate ATP. Methanophenazine (MPh) is a unique membrane electron carrier found in Methanosarcina species that plays the same role as quinones in the electron transport chain. To extend the analogy between quinones and MPh, we compared the MPh pool sizes between two well-studied Methanosarcina species, Methanosarcina acetivorans C2A and Methanosarcina barkeri Fusaro, to the quinone pool size in the bacterium Escherichia coli. We found the quantity of MPh per cell increases as cultures transition from exponential growth to stationary phase, and absolute quantities of MPh were 3-fold higher in M. acetivorans than in M. barkeri. The concentration of MPh suggests the cell membrane of M. acetivorans, but not of M. barkeri, is electrically quantized as if it were a single conductive metal sheet and near optimal for rate of electron transport. Similarly, stationary (but not exponentially growing) E. coli cells also have electrically quantized membranes on the basis of quinone content. Consistent with our hypothesis, we demonstrated that the exogenous addition of phenazine increases the growth rate of M. barkeri three times that of M. acetivorans. Our work suggests electron flux through MPh is naturally higher in M. acetivorans than in M. barkeri and that hydrogen cycling is less efficient at conserving energy than scalar proton translocation using MPh.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00950
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Archaea
  • Bioenergetics
  • Electron transport
  • Escherichia coli
  • Membrane biophysics
  • Methanogens
  • Methanophenazines
  • Methanosarcina
  • Phenazines
  • Quinones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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