Horizontal gene transfer of three co-inherited methane monooxygenase systems gave rise to methanotrophy in the Proteobacteria

Craig D. Osborne, Victoria S. Haritos

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The critical role that bacterial methanotrophs have in regulating the environmental concentrations of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, under aerobic conditions is dependent on monooxygenase enzymes which oxidise the substrate as both a carbon and energy source. Despite the importance of these organisms, the evolutionary origins of aerobic methane oxidation capability and its relationship to proteobacterial evolution is not well understood. Here we investigated the phylogenetic relationship of proteobacterial methanotrophs with related, non-methanotrophic bacteria using 16S rRNA and the evolution of two forms of methane monooxygenase: membrane bound (pMMO and pXMO) and cytoplasmic (sMMO). Through analysis we have concluded that extant proteobacterial methanotrophs evolved from up to five ancestral species, and that all three methane monooxygenase systems, pMMO, pXMO and sMMO, were likely present in the ancestral species (although pXMO and sMMO are not present in most of the present day methanotrophs). Here we propose that the three monooxygenase systems entered the ancestral species by horizontal gene transfer, with these likely to have pre-existing physiological and metabolic attributes that supported conversion to methanotrophy. Further, we suggest that prior to these enzyme systems developing methane oxidation capabilities, the membrane-bound and cytoplasmic monooxygenases were already both functionally and phylogenetically associated. These results not only suggest that sMMO and pXMO have a far greater role in methanotrophic evolution than previously understood but also implies that the co-inheritance of membrane bound and cytoplasmic monooxygenases have roles additional to that of supporting methanotrophy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-181
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • Chemolithoautotroph
  • Co-evolution
  • CuMMO
  • Greenhouse gas
  • pMMO
  • sMMO

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