The importance of methane and thiosulfate in the metabolism of the bacterial symbionts of two deep-sea mussels

C. R. Fisher, J. J. Childress, R. S. Oremland, R. R. Bidigare

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Undescribed hydrocarbon-seep mussels were collected from the Louisiana Slope, Gulf of Mexico, during March 1986, and the ultrastructure of their gills was examined and compared to Bathymodiolus thermophilus, a mussel collected from the deep-sea hydrothermal vents on the Galápagos Rift in March 1985. These closely related mytilids both contain abundant symbiotic bacteria in their gills. However, the bacteria from the two species are distinctly different in both morphology and biochemistry, and are housed differently within the gills of the two mussels. The symbionts from the seep mussel are larger than the symbionts from B. thermophilus and, unlike the latter, contain stacked intracytoplasmic membranes. In the seep mussel three or fewer symbionts appear to be contained in each host-cell vacuole, while in B. thermophilus there are often more than twenty bacteria visible in a single section through a vacuole. The methanotrophic nature of the seep-mussel symbionts was confirmed in 14C-methane uptake experiments by the appearance of label in both CO2 and acid-stable, non-volatile, organic compounds after a 3 h incubation of isolated gill tissue. Furthermore, methane consumption was correlated with methanol dehydrogenase activity in isolated gill tissue. Activity of ribulose-1,5-biphosphate (RuBP) carboxylase and 14CO2 assimilation studies indicate the presence of either a second type of symbiont or contaminating bacteria on the gills of freshly captured seep mussels. A reevaluation of the nutrition of the symbionts in B. thermophilus indicates that while the major symbiont is not a methanotroph, its status as a sulfur-oxidizing chemoautotroph, as has been suggested previously, is far from proven.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-71
Number of pages13
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1987

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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