Syntrophic entanglements for propionate and acetate oxidation under thermophilic and high-ammonia conditions

Abhijeet Singh, Anna Schnürer, Jan Dolfing, Maria Westerholm*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Propionate is a key intermediate in anaerobic digestion processes and often accumulates in association with perturbations, such as elevated levels of ammonia. Under such conditions, syntrophic ammonia-tolerant microorganisms play a key role in propionate degradation. Despite their importance, little is known about these syntrophic microorganisms and their cross-species interactions. Here, we present metagenomes and metatranscriptomic data for novel thermophilic and ammonia-tolerant syntrophic bacteria and the partner methanogens enriched in propionate-fed reactors. A metagenome for a novel bacterium for which we propose the provisional name 'Candidatus Thermosyntrophopropionicum ammoniitolerans' was recovered, together with mapping of its highly expressed methylmalonyl-CoA pathway for syntrophic propionate degradation. Acetate was degraded by a novel thermophilic syntrophic acetate-oxidising candidate bacterium. Electron removal associated with syntrophic propionate and acetate oxidation was mediated by the hydrogen/formate-utilising methanogens Methanoculleus sp. and Methanothermobacter sp., with the latter observed to be critical for efficient propionate degradation. Similar dependence on Methanothermobacter was not seen for acetate degradation. Expression-based analyses indicated use of both H 2 and formate for electron transfer, including cross-species reciprocation with sulphuric compounds and microbial nanotube-mediated interspecies interactions. Batch cultivation demonstrated degradation rates of up to 0.16 g propionate L -1 day -1 at hydrogen partial pressure 4-30 Pa and available energy was around -20 mol -1 propionate. These observations outline the multiple syntrophic interactions required for propionate oxidation and represent a first step in increasing knowledge of acid accumulation in high-ammonia biogas production systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1966-1978
Number of pages13
JournalThe ISME Journal
Issue number11
Early online date7 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023

Cite this