Methanoarchaea, the largest and most phylogenetically diverse group in the Archaea domain, have evolved energy-yielding pathways marked by one-carbon biochemistry featuring novel cofactors and enzymes. All of the pathways have in common the two-electron reduction of methyl-coenzyme M to methane catalyzed by methyl-coenzyme M reductase but deviate in the source of the methyl group transferred to coenzyme M. Most of the methane produced in nature derives from acetate in a pathway where the activated substrate is cleaved by CO dehydrogenase/acetyl-CoA synthase and the methyl group is transferred to coenzyme M via methyltetrahydromethanopterin or methyltetrahydrosarcinapterin. Electrons for reductive demethylation of the methyl-coenzyme M originate from oxidation of the carbonyl group of acetate to carbon dioxide by the synthase. In the other major pathway, formate or H2 is oxidized to provide electrons for reduction of carbon dioxide to the methyl level and reduction of methyl-coenzyme to methane. Methane is also produced from the methyl groups of methanol and methylamines. In these pathways specialized methyltransferases transfer the methyl groups to coenzyme M. Electrons for reduction of the methyl-coenzyme M are supplied by oxidation of the methyl groups to carbon dioxide by a reversal of the carbon dioxide reduction pathway. Recent progress on the enzymology of one-carbon reactions in these pathways has raised the level of understanding with regard to the physiology and molecular biology of methanogenesis. These advances have also provided a foundation for future studies on the structure/function of these novel enzymes and exploitation of the recently completed sequences for the genomes from the methanoarchaea Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum and Methanococcus jannaschii.

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