Methane as a resource: can the methanotrophs add value?
Methane is an abundant gas used in energy recovery systems, heating, and transport. Methanotrophs are bacteria capable of using methane as their sole carbon source. Although intensively researched, the myriad of potential biotechnological applications of methanotrophic bacteria has not been comprehensively discussed in a single review. Methanotrophs can generate single-cell protein, biopolymers, components for nanotechnology applications (surface layers), soluble metabolites (methanol, formaldehyde, organic acids, and ectoine), lipids (biodiesel and health supplements), growth media, and vitamin B12 using methane as their carbon source. They may be genetically engineered to produce new compounds such as carotenoids or farnesene. Some enzymes (dehydrogenases, oxidase, and catalase) are valuable products with high conversion efficiencies and can generate methanol or sequester CO2 as formic acid ex vivo. Live cultures can be used for bioremediation, chemical transformation (propene to propylene oxide), wastewater denitrification, as components of biosensors, or possibly for directly generating electricity. This review demonstrates the potential for methanotrophs and their consortia to generate value while using methane as a carbon source. While there are notable challenges using a low solubility gas as a carbon source, the massive methane resource, and the potential cost savings while sequestering a greenhouse gas, keeps interest piqued in these unique bacteria.