North, J. A., et al. 2020. Science

A nitrogenase-like enzyme system catalyzes methionine, ethylene, and methane biogenesis

Justin A. North, Adrienne B. Narrowe, Weili Xiong, Kathryn M. Byerly, Guanqi Zhao, Sarah J. Young, Srividya Murali, John A. Wildenthal, William R. Cannon, Kelly C. Wrighton, Robert L. Hettich, and F. Robert Tabita
28 August 2020, Science Vol. 369, Issue 6507, pp. 1094-1098; doi: 10.1126/science.abb6310


Bacterial production of gaseous hydrocarbons such as ethylene and methane affects soil environments and atmospheric climate. We demonstrate that biogenic methane and ethylene from terrestrial and freshwater bacteria are directly produced by a previously unknown methionine biosynthesis pathway. This pathway, present in numerous species, uses a nitrogenase-like reductase that is distinct from known nitrogenases and nitrogenase-like reductases and specifically functions in C–S bond breakage to reduce ubiquitous and appreciable volatile organic sulfur compounds such as dimethyl sulfide and (2-methylthio)ethanol. Liberated methanethiol serves as the immediate precursor to methionine, while ethylene or methane is released into the environment. Anaerobic ethylene production by this pathway apparently explains the long-standing observation of ethylene accumulation in oxygen-depleted soils. Methane production reveals an additional bacterial pathway distinct from archaeal methanogenesis.