Feeding on electrons

Status: ongoing 
The Danish research council awarded a prestigious danish Sapere Aude research leadership grant to investigate how methanogenic Archaea corrode iron and ultimately find ways to prevent corrosion. The project will be carried out at SDU.
  • Satoshi (postdoc) – he will investigate the molecular mechanisms used by methanogens to corrode metallic iron.
  • Paola (PhD student) – she  will isolate highly corrosive strains from corroded oil/gas pipes and find what promotes corrosion
  • Oona (postdoc 2016-2017) – iron-corrosion by microbial consortia
  • Lasse Ørum-Smidt (lab technician) – working not only on this project, but also on our recent project funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.
Project summary

Oil and gas pipes in the United States alone are long enough to surround the Earth a hundred times. These underground metal grids are corroding continuously, representing repair costs of billions of dollars. Not in the least, leaks from corroded pipes pollute the adjacent ecosystems. Prevention of such economic and ecosystem damage must start with a better understanding of how metallic iron (Fe0) is corroded. Although chemical corrosion of Fe0 occurs only when O2 is present, biological processes corrode Fe0 under anoxic conditions, for example by respiration in anaerobic microorganisms using sulfate. Importantly, even in the absence of sulfate, certain Archaea use electrons from Fe0 as an energy source to reduce CO2 to methane. In effect, these archaeal methanogens cause extensive pipe damage by feeding directly on electrons from Fe0. The biochemical mechanisms of electron transfer and capture are, however, unknown. Here, I propose the means to elucidate these mechanisms.
The two major objectives of my proposal are: (1) to learn how methanogenic Archaea (methanogens) use electrons from Fe0, and (2) to find how we can prevent Fe0 corrosion.
To accomplish these goals we will work at the interface between disciplines that include mineralogy, electrochemistry, microbiology, molecular biology and genetics. The requisite skills will be harnessed from laboratories in Denmark, Germany and the US. The vision is to discover what controls corrosion. Corrosion management of oil and gas pipes can prevent future environmental calamities, and will positively impact the economy of the World.


*Presenting author

O. Snoeyenbos-West*, C. Loscher, AE Rotaru. The Electromicrobiome of Oxygen Minimum Zones and its Biogeochemical Significance. Goldschmidt 2017, Paris, FR.

O. Snoeyenbos-West*, C. Loscher, AE Rotaru. -like above- International workshop in marine microbiology: a matter of energy.  2017, Sandbjerg, DK.

S. Kawaichi*, B. Thamdrup, AE Rotaru. Biocorrosion and bioelectrosynthesis by Methanococcus maripaludis Mic1C10. EU-ISMET meeting 2017, Lisbon, PT.