Phylogenetic comparison of the methanogenic communities from an acidic, oligotrophic fen and an anaerobic digester treating municipal wastewater sludge

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Methanogens play a critical role in the decomposition of organics under anaerobic conditions. The methanogenic consortia in saturated wetland soils are often subjected to large temperature fluctuations and acidic conditions, imposing a selective pressure for psychro- and acidotolerant community members; however, methanogenic communities in engineered digesters are frequently maintained within a narrow range of mesophilic and circumneutral conditions to retain system stability. To investigate the hypothesis that these two disparate environments have distinct methanogenic communities, the methanogens in an oligotrophic acidic fen and a mesophilic anaerobic digester treating municipal wastewater sludge were characterized by creating clone libraries for the 16S rRNA and methyl coenzyme M reductase alpha subunit (mcrA) genes. A quantitative framework was developed to assess the differences between these two communities by calculating the average sequence similarity for 16S rRNA genes and mcrA within a genus and family using sequences of isolated and characterized methanogens within the approved methanogen taxonomy. The average sequence similarities for 16S rRNA genes within a genus and family were 96.0 and 93.5%, respectively, and the average sequence similarities for mcrA within a genus and family were 88.9 and 79%, respectively. The clone libraries of the bog and digester environments showed no overlap at the species level and almost no overlap at the family level. Both libraries were dominated by clones related to uncultured methanogen groups within the Methanomicrobiales, although members of the Methanosarcinales and Methanobacteriales were also found in both libraries. Diversity indices for the 16S rRNA gene library of the bog and both mcrA libraries were similar, but these indices indicated much lower diversity in the 16S digester library than in the other three libraries.

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