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Genome-guided analysis of physiological and morphological traits of the fermentative acetate oxidizer Thermacetogenium phaeum

Dirk Oehler1*, Anja Poehlein2, Andreas Leimbach2, Nicolai Müller13, Rolf Daniel2, Gerhard Gottschalk2 and Bernhard Schink1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Microbial Ecology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, D-78457, Germany

2 Genomic and Applied Microbiology and Göttingen Genomics Laboratory, Georg-August University Göttingen, Göttingen, D-37077, Germany

3 Department of Microbiology and Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, 601 S. Goodwin, Urbana, IL, 61801, USA

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:723  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-723

Published: 23 December 2012



Thermacetogenium phaeum is a thermophilic strictly anaerobic bacterium oxidizing acetate to CO2 in syntrophic association with a methanogenic partner. It can also grow in pure culture, e.g., by fermentation of methanol to acetate. The key enzymes of homoacetate fermentation (Wood-Ljungdahl pathway) are used both in acetate oxidation and acetate formation. The obvious reversibility of this pathway in this organism is of specific interest since syntrophic acetate oxidation operates close to the energetic limitations of microbial life.


The genome of Th. phaeum is organized on a single circular chromosome and has a total size of 2,939,057 bp. It comprises 3.215 open reading frames of which 75% could be assigned to a gene function. The G+C content is 53.88 mol%. Many CRISPR sequences were found, indicating heavy phage attack in the past. A complete gene set for a phage was found in the genome, and indications of phage action could also be observed in culture. The genome contained all genes required for CO2 reduction through the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway, including two formyl tetrahydrofolate ligases, three carbon monoxide dehydrogenases, one formate hydrogenlyase complex, three further formate dehydrogenases, and three further hydrogenases. The bacterium contains a menaquinone MQ-7. No indications of cytochromes or Rnf complexes could be found in the genome.


The information obtained from the genome sequence indicates that Th. phaeum differs basically from the three homoacetogenic bacteria sequenced so far, i.e., the sodium ion-dependent Acetobacterium woodii, the ethanol-producing Clostridium ljungdahlii, and the cytochrome-containing Moorella thermoacetica. The specific enzyme outfit of Th. phaeum obviously allows ATP formation both in acetate formation and acetate oxidation.