Archives of Microbiology

, Volume 118, Issue 2, pp 141–152 | Cite as

Chemical composition of the peptidoglycan-free cell walls of methanogenic bacteria

  • Otto Kandler
  • Helmut König


Cell walls were prepared from freeze-dried samples of 7 strains of Methanobacterium by mechanical disintegration of the cells followed by incubation with trypsin. Electron microscopy revealed the presence of sacculi exhibiting the shape of the original cells, on which no surface structure could be detected. Ultrathin sections of the isolated sacculi showed a homogenously electron dense layer of about 10–15 nm in width. The ash content varied between 8 and 18% of dry weight. The sacculi of all the strains contained Lys: Ala: Glu: GlcNAc or GalNAc in a molar ratio of about 1:1.2:2:1. In one strain (M. ruminantium M 1) alanine is replaced by threonine, however. Neutral sugars and-in some strains-additional amounts of the amino sugars were present in variable amounts, and could be removed by formamide extraction or HF treatment without destroying the sacculi. No muramic acid or d-amino acids typical of peptidoglycan were found. Therefore, the sacculi of the methanobacteria consist of a different polymer containing a set of three l-amino acids and one N-acetylated amino sugar. From cells of Methanospirillum hungatii no sacculi, but tube-like sheaths could be isolated, which tend to fracture perpendicularly to the long axis of the sheath along the fibrills seen on the surface. The sheaths consist of protein containing 18 amino acids and small amounts of neutral sugars. They are resistent to the proteinases tested and are not disintegrated by boiling in 2% sodium dodecylsulfate for 30 min.

The three Gram-negative strains Black Sea isolate JR-1, Cariaco isolate JR-1 and Methanobacterium mobile do not contain a rigid sacculus, but merely a SDS-sensitive surface layer composed of regularly arranged protein subunits. This evidence indicates that, within the methanogens, different cell wall polymers characteristic of particular groups of organisms may have evolved during evolution, and supports the hypothesis that the evolution of the methanogens was separated from that of the peptidoglycan-containing procaryotic organisms at a very early stage.

Key words

Methanobacterium formicicum Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum Methanobacterium ruminantium Methanobacterium arbophilicum Methanobacterium sp. M. o. H. Methanobacterium mobile Methanococcus Methanospirillum hungatii Cell wall polymer Cell wall composition 

Non Standard Abbreviations


sodium dodecylsulfate


ethylenediaminetetra acetic acid




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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Otto Kandler
    • 1
  • Helmut König
    • 1
  1. 1.Botanisches Institut der Universität MünchenMünchen 19Federal Republic of Germany

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