Methane is formed on rice roots mainly by CO2 reduction. The present study aimed to identify the active methanogenic populations responsible for this process. Soil-free rice roots were incubated anaerobically under an atmosphere of H2/(13CO2) or N2/(13CO2) with phosphate or carbonate (marble) as buffer medium. Nucleic acids were extracted and fractionated by caesium trifluoroacetate equilibrium density gradient centrifugation after 16-day incubation. Community analyses were performed for gradient fractions using terminal restriction fragment polymorphism analysis (T-RFLP) and sequencing of the 16S rRNA genes. In addition, rRNA was extracted and analysed at different time points to trace the community change during the 16-day incubation. The Methanosarcinaceae and the yet-uncultured archaeal lineage Rice Cluster-I (RC-I) were predominant in the root incubations when carbonate buffer and N2 headspace were used. The analysis of [13C]DNA showed that the relative 16S rRNA gene abundance of RC-I increased whereas that of the Methanosarcinaceae decreased with increasing DNA buoyant density, indicating that members of RC-I were more active than the Methanosarcinaceae. However, an unexpected finding was that RC-I was suppressed in the presence of high H2 concentrations (80%, v/v), which during the early incubation period caused a lower CH4 production compared with that with N2 in the headspace. Eventually, however, CH4 production increased, probably because of the activity of Methanosarcinaceae, which became prevalent. Phosphate buffer appeared to inhibit the activity of the Methanosarcinaceae, resulting in lower CH4 production as compared with carbonate buffer. Under these conditions, Methanobacteriaceae were the prevalent methanogens. Our study suggests that the active methanogenic populations on rice roots change in correspondence to the presence of H2 (80%, v/v) and the type of buffer used in the system.
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