Chain elongation is a growth-dependent anaerobic metabolism that combines acetate and ethanol into butyrate, hexanoate, and octanoate. While the model microorganism for chain elongation, Clostridium kluyveri, was isolated from a saturated soil sample in the 1940s, chain elongation has remained unexplored in soil environments. During soil fermentative events, simple carboxylates and alcohols can transiently accumulate up to low mM concentrations, suggesting in situ possibility of microbial chain elongation. Here, we examined the occurrence and microbial ecology of chain elongation in four soil types in microcosms and enrichments amended with chain elongation substrates. All soils showed evidence of chain elongation activity with several days of incubation at high (100 mM) and environmentally relevant (2.5 mM) concentrations of acetate and ethanol. Three soils showed substantial activity in soil microcosms with high substrate concentrations, converting 58% or more of the added carbon as acetate and ethanol to butyrate, butanol, and hexanoate. Semi-batch enrichment yielded hexanoate and octanoate as the most elongated products and microbial communities predominated by C. kluyveri and other Firmicutes genera not known to undergo chain elongation. Collectively, these results strongly suggest a niche for chain elongation in anaerobic soils that should not be overlooked in soil microbial ecology studies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics