Methane is a potent greenhouse gas (28-fold more potent than carbon dioxide) and is a significant gas contributing to global climate change. Approximately a billion tons of methane are produced each year by methanogenic archaea in ruminants. These archaea possess a number of unusual traits such as isoprenoid-based lipids, unusual cell wall chemistry and a unique energy metabolism (methanogenesis) that requires six methanogen-specific cofactors. Many of the enzymes involved in these processes have no direct analogues in the host animal. To gain insights into the fundamental biology of rumen methanogens we have determined crystal structures of key enzymes with archaeal-specific traits. Over 600 enzymes were targeted for structure determination which produced approximately 200 purified soluble enzymes for crystallographic screening. More than 50 different enzymes have produced crystals and 30 structures have been solved for individual enzymes to date. The results have helped illuminate our understanding of methane formation at this critical juncture in the world’s history.


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