Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw’s®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 16 No. 1 • January 2013

Scientists Report on Hydrogen-Limited Growth of Methanogens at Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents

But So Far No New Insights on the Interactions of Hydrogen Producing to Methane Producing Bugs in the Human Colon

Scientists are hard at work trying to learn more about the interesting ecosystem at deep-sea hydrothermal vents that emit various nutrient-enriched fluids and the organisms that live on those nutrients. The organism community includes hydrogen producing microbes and microbes that consume hydrogen and produce methane. There is much in common with our colon ecosystem that includes hydrogen-producing microbes and microbes that consume hydrogen and produce methane. Of course, the temperatures near the hydrothermal vents are far higher than the temperatures found in the human colon (or the colon of any mammal), but temperatures at a distance from the vents are considerably cooler and may still include these types of microbes. As reported in a recent paper,1 hydrothermal fluids with temperatures ranging from 2.7 degrees Centigrade (background seawater) to 353 degrees Centigrade were collected in order to study hydrogen concentrations and the effect that hydrogen concentration had on the growth of methanogens.

The researchers found that the hydrogen emitted by the hydrothermal vents was not the only source of hydrogen available for methanogenesis, as “some hyperthermophilic, anaerobic heterotrophs produce H2 [hydrogen] as an end-product, even when grown with sulfur as a terminal electron acceptor. In two of our MPN tubes, methanogens were found growing in coculture with hyperthermophilic heterotrophs where no H2 had been added initially, suggesting syntrophic (or at least commensal) growth between the two organisms.”1 “Previous estimates of H2 production rates by a hyperthermophilic heterotroph and H2 consumption by Methanocaldococcus strain JH146, based on a 4:1 H2 consumption-to-CH4 [CH4=methane] production ratio, suggest that 27–47 hyperthermophilic heterotrophs could produce enough H2 to sustain a single Methanocaldococcus cell.”1

This and other results reported in this study suggests that scientists know more about the relationship between hydrogen producing and hydrogen-consuming-methane-producing microbes at hydrothermal vents than they do about the similar goings on right inside our own guts!

The study was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation Division of Ocean Sciences, other National Science Foundation grants, with additional funding from the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA!) Astrobiology Institute Director’s Discretionary Fund, and yet more funding for the publication of the study by other government entities. It is not our purpose here to complain that the government is not funding studies of microbes in the human colon as we, in agreement with published statements by Milton Friedman,2 do not think government should be funding scientific research (same as choosing winners and losers in an economic context). Your taxes and ours at work …

(We were able to get Dr. Friedman to autograph the page in our copy of Science containing this article. He was greatly surprised, saying that he had never expected any scientist to want his autograph on this particular article. A photocopy of the page with the original autograph is currently displayed prominently on a wall of our house.)


  1. Ver Eecke et al. Hydrogen-limited growth of hyperthermophilic methanogens at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109(34):13674-9 (2012).
  2. Nicholas Wade. Why Government Should Not Fund Science” (an interview with Milton Friedman) Science 210:33 (3 Oct. 1980).

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