Methane Production by Methanogens In Simulated Subsurface Martian Environments

Slade, David John (2023). Methane Production by Methanogens In Simulated Subsurface Martian Environments. PhD thesis The Open University.



Methane has a typical atmospheric photochemical lifetime of ∼300 years on Mars, making contemporary reported detections (and non-detections) of methane a fiercely debated topic, due to the potential need for a present-day source. On Earth, most methane is produced by methanogenic microbes present in, e.g., ruminants, wetlands, lakes and permafrost. Of the four metabolic pathways on Earth, the hydrogenotrophic pathway is the most common, utilising CO2 and H2 as substrates. Both gases are present on Mars, plus liquid water and essential elements (CHNOPS) that are requirements for life, and organics. Surface conditions on Mars are sterilising, however, the temperature and pressure of the subsurface are potentially favourable to life and provide a shield to sterilising surface conditions, and are thus a possible habitat for methanogens. A meta-analysis was conducted, motivated by these subsurface parameters, that redefined the statistical representation for several growth parameters for all type-strains of methanogens and analysed multiple parameters simultaneously across multiple categories (e.g. metabolism), showing that the optimal average conditions in which to grow methanogens would be a meso-temperate (20 to 39◦C), hypersaline and slightly acidic environment. Two martian subsurface environments were simulated to determine whether environmental or chemical factors are inhibitory to methanogenesis. (1) Methanoculleus marisnigri was grown in a custom-built, high-pressure manifold at 60 bar and 25◦C to simulate the subsurface of Mars, although no methane was produced, due to a technical issue resulting in oxygenated medium. However, some cells survived five weeks of oxygenation. (2) Methanothermococcus okinawensis was grown in a simulated chemical environment at 1 bar and 60◦C, that included a regolith simulant, a proposed martian brine and a Mars-relevant organic source (carbonaceous chondrite). The simulated parameters of the chemical environment of subsurface Mars were not inhibitory to hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis, suggesting it is feasible (from a metabolic perspective) that subsurface methanogens could be producing contemporary methane on Mars.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions