The distinctive membrane lipids of the archaea can contain a wide range of chemical structures. The membrane lipid composition of ruminal methanogenic archaea has not yet been characterized. In this study, we analyzed proportions of the core archaeal membrane lipids dialkyl glycerol diethers (DGDG) and glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether (GDGT). We analyzed the feces of beef steers consuming diets that promoted differences in ruminal conditions that were either favorable (i.e., grass silage) or challenging (i.e., concentrates) for the methanogenic archaea. There was significantly less total ether lipid in the feces of cattle consuming the concentrate diet in comparison to the grass silage diet (97 vs. 218 mg/kg DM, respectively), reflecting the inhibitory effect of dietary concentrate on methanogens. Additionally, the proportion of fecal ether lipids as GDGT was much greater in feces from cattle consuming the concentrate diet than in feces from cattle fed grass silage (90 vs. 67% GDGT). A possible explanation for this adaptation is that membrane lipids composited of GDGT lipids are less permeable to protons, thereby protecting the methanogens against low ruminal pH and helping to maintain the chemiosmotic potential (which is important for ATP production, methanogenesis, and growth). The greater proportion of fecal ether lipids as GDGT may reflect adaptation of membrane lipids within the same species, a shift towards methanogens that have a greater proportion of GDGT (e.g., Thermoplasmata), or both. The effect of ruminal environment on membrane composition means that it will be important to consider the production of both DGDG and GDGT lipids when developing a proxy for methanogenesis.
Bibliographical noteThe authors acknowledge financial support from the Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Scheme. NERC provided funding for the mass spectrometry facilities at Bristol (contract R8/H10/63; http://www.lsmsf.co.uk).
- glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether
- dialkyl glycerol diether
- ruminal methanogen