Who eats what? Unravelling microbial conversion of coal to methane

Silas H. W. Vick, Se Gong, Stephen Sestak, Tania J. Vergara, Kaydy L. Pinetown, Zhongsheng Li, Paul Greenfield, Sasha G. Tetu, David J. Midgley, Ian T. Paulsen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    23 Citations (Scopus)


    Microbial communities in subsurface coal seams are responsible for the conversion of coal organic matter to methane. This process has important implications for both energy production and our understanding of global carbon cycling. Despite the environmental and economic importance of this process, little is known about which components of the heterogeneous coal organic matter are biodegradable under methanogenic conditions. Similarly, little is known about which taxa in coal seams carry out the initial stages of coal organics degradation. To identify the biodegradable components of coal and the microorganisms responsible for their breakdown, a subbituminous coal was fractionated into a number of chemical compound classes which were used as the sole carbon source for growth by a coal seam microbial community. This study identifies 65 microbial taxa able to proliferate on specific coal fractions and demonstrates a surprising level of substrate specificity among members of this coal-degrading microbial consortia. Additionally, coal kerogen, the solvent-insoluble organic component of coal often considered recalcitrant to microbial degradation, appeared to be readily converted to methane by microbial degradation. These findings challenge our understanding of coal organic matter catabolism and provide insights into the catabolic roles of individual coal seam bacteria.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberfiz093
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
    Issue number7
    Early online date19 Jun 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


    • coal seam gas
    • coalbed methane
    • coal seam microbiology
    • methane
    • kerogen
    • bitumen


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