Novel group of methane producing organisms named after Em. Prof. Willy Verstraete

(12-10-2016) A group of microorganisms able to produce biogas has been named after Emeritus Professor Willy Verstraete (Ghent University, Belgium) in recognition of his pioneering work on biogas production.

The group of organisms is called Verstraetearchaeota (easiest to pronounce as Verstraete-archaeota) and has been named by an Australian research group. It is uncommon that instead of one single species an entire group of microorganisms is named after one person.

The research on the newly discovered group of organisms was published on 3 October 2016 in the prestigious magazine Nature Microbiology.

Novel way to produce biogas

The Verstraetearchaeota can be found in places with a high methane flux, such as biogas installations (anaerobic digesters).

The group consists of microorganisms able to produce methane (biogas) from small carbon components such as methanol and methylamines. Possibly they are also able to ferment sugars and amino-acids.

This is a potential significant shift in the perception of biogas production, for example in anaerobic digesters. It was always assumed that various groups of microorganisms needed to cooperate in order to break down biomass to small fragments, ferment them and finally produce methane out of the fermentation products. The newly named group of Verstraetearchaeota is implicated to perform a metabolism or combine functions that are typically not associated with the methane-producing microorganisms.

About Em. Prof. Verstraete

In 1979 Willy Verstraete started the Laboratory for Microbial Ecology and Technology at Ghent University, which has now grown into the internationally known research center CMET. Verstraete's research focuses on the use of microorganisms to treat wastewater and drinking water, and on how they can be turned to good use for e.g. biogas production.

Verstraete: "This is great news, not only as a recognition for the contribution Ghent University has delivered to microbiology for many years, but also on a scientific level. It is wonderful that a completely novel group of microorganisms has been discovered. One could compare it to discovering a new animal species: this is very special."

Read more in the scientific article published in Nature Microbiology.