Atmospheric methane is degraded by both photooxidation and, in topsoils, by methanotrophic bacteria, but this may not totally account for the global sink of this greenhouse gas. Topsoils are a prominent source of airborne bacteria, which can degrade some organic atmospheric compounds at rates similar to photooxidation. Although airborne methanotrophs would have direct access to atmospheric methane, their presence and activity in the atmosphere has not been investigated so far. We enriched airborne methanotrophs from air and rainwater and showed that they oxidized methane at atmospheric concentration. The majority of seven OTUs, detected using pmoA gene clone libraries, were affiliated to the type II methanotrophic genera Methylocystis and Methylosinus. Furthermore, 16S rRNA gene clone libraries revealed the presence of OTUs affiliated with the genera Hyphomicrobium and Variovorax, members of which can stimulate methane oxidation by yet unidentified mechanisms. Simulating cloud-like conditions revealed that although both low pH and the presence of common cloud-borne organics negatively affected methane oxidation, airborne methanotrophs were able to degrade atmospheric methane in most cases. We demonstrate here for the first time that viable methanotrophic bacteria are present in air and rain and thus expand our knowledge on the global distribution of methanotrophs to include the atmosphere. The fact that they can degrade methane to below atmospheric concentrations when inoculated into artificial cloud water leads to an important possible effect of these organisms: the atmosphere may not only function as a medium for microbial dissemination, but also as a site of active microbial methane turnover.
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T.Š.-T. was supported by a PhD fellowship granted by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (Forsknings- og Innovationsstyrelsen). Funding for the Stellar Astrophysics Centre is provided by The Danish National Research Foundation. The research is supported by the ASTERISK project (ASTERoseismic Investigations with SONG and Kepler) funded by the European Research Council (Grant agreement no.: 267864). The authors thank Lotte Frederiksen, Tove Wiegers and Fariba Barandazi for skilled technical assistance. We gratefully acknowledge the valuable advice of Teresa G. Bárcena and Svend Binnerup.
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Šantl-Temkiv, T., Finster, K., Hansen, B.M. et al. Viable methanotrophic bacteria enriched from air and rain can oxidize methane at cloud-like conditions. Aerobiologia 29, 373–384 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10453-013-9287-1
- Air microbiology
- Aerial dispersal
- Airborne bacteria