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Concept: Microbial biodegradation


During the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the application of 7 million liters of chemical dispersants aimed to stimulate microbial crude oil degradation by increasing the bioavailability of oil compounds. However, the effects of dispersants on oil biodegradation rates are debated. In laboratory experiments, we simulated environmental conditions comparable to the hydrocarbon-rich, 1,100 m deep plume that formed during the Deepwater Horizon discharge. The presence of dispersant significantly altered the microbial community composition through selection for potential dispersant-degrading Colwellia, which also bloomed in situ in Gulf deep waters during the discharge. In contrast, oil addition to deepwater samples in the absence of dispersant stimulated growth of natural hydrocarbon-degrading Marinobacter. In these deepwater microcosm experiments, dispersants did not enhance heterotrophic microbial activity or hydrocarbon oxidation rates. An experiment with surface seawater from an anthropogenically derived oil slick corroborated the deepwater microcosm results as inhibition of hydrocarbon turnover was observed in the presence of dispersants, suggesting that the microcosm findings are broadly applicable across marine habitats. Extrapolating this comprehensive dataset to real world scenarios questions whether dispersants stimulate microbial oil degradation in deep ocean waters and instead highlights that dispersants can exert a negative effect on microbial hydrocarbon degradation rates.

Concepts: Carbon, Natural gas, Bacteria, Mexico, Experiment, Microbial biodegradation, Water, Petroleum


Cultures from the unicellular green alga Scenedesmus obliquus biodegrade the toxic p-cresol (4-methylphenol) and use it as alternative carbon/energy source. The biodegradation procedure of p-cresol seems to be a two-step process. HPLC analyses indicate that the split of the methyl group (first step) that is possibly converted to methanol (increased methanol concentration in the growth medium), leading, according to our previous work, to changes in the molecular structure and function of the photosynthetic apparatus and therefore to microalgal biomass increase. The second step is the fission of the intermediately produced phenol. A higher p-cresol concentration results in a higher p-cresol biodegradation rate and a lower total p-cresol biodegradability. The first biodegradation step seems to be the most decisive for the effectiveness of the process, because methanol offers energy for the further biodegradation reactions. The absence of LHCII from the Scenedesmus mutant wt-lhc stopped the methanol effect and significantly reduced the p-cresol biodegradation (only 9%). The present contribution deals with an energy distribution between microalgal growth and p-cresol biodegradation, activated by p-cresol concentration. The simultaneous biomass increase with the detoxification of a toxic phenolic compound (p-cresol) could be a significant biotechnological aspect for further applications.

Concepts: Biodegradability prediction, Bacteria, Biodegradation, Microbial biodegradation, Bioremediation, Phenols, Photosynthesis


The release of pharmaceuticals in the environment, as parent compounds, metabolites and transformation products, and the consequent risks posed to living organisms due to the unintended exposure of the latter to these chemicals are nowadays of increasing scientific concern. The development of advanced oxidation processes able to degrade these substances is in the core of the current research objectives, the main target being the removal of these compounds from wastewaters. Often the focus is on the removal of the parent compound only. However, these processes can form transformation products. Knowledge on the risk related to such transformation products is scarce. Among others, knowledge on their toxic effects and their biodegradability is of importance not only when they are present in the environment but also for the assessment of the advanced oxidation processes' efficiency applied for their degradation. Photolytic (UV irradiation) and photocatalytic treatment (UV irradiation in the presence of TiO(2)) of the fluoroquinolone ofloxacin were applied, and the biodegradability of the formed products was investigated using the Closed Bottle test (OECD 301 D). Various transformation products, formed both during the photo(cata)lytic treatment and the Closed Bottle test, were identified using chromatographic analysis with an ultra high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (UPLC-MS/MS) system. The transformation products formed during the phototreatments were found to be non-readily biodegradable as the biodegradation percentages were close to zero. The persistence of the various photo(cata)lytic transformation products during the Closed Bottle test may be attributed to the fluorine present in all the transformation products formed. The transformation products identified suggest that two transformation routes were present: decarboxylation and opening of the piperazinyl ring. Interestingly, it was observed that in the presence of a readily biodegradable carbon source (sodium acetate), the biodegradation percentage increased drastically for some of the photolytically treated samples. This was not the case for the photocatalytically treated samples, in which also mineralization of the parent compound was achieved faster. Further research is needed, however, in order to increase the understanding of the conditions that may lead to less potent and persistent substances during the application of such engineered or natural processes.

Concepts: Microbial biodegradation, Biodegradability prediction, Chromatography, Biodegradation, Bioremediation, Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry


The evolution of microstructure and mechanical properties of almost fully amorphous Mg(72) Zn(23) Ca(5) and crystalline Mg(70) Zn(23) Ca(5) Pd(2) alloys during immersion in Hank’s balanced salt solution (HBSS), as well as their cytocompatibility, are investigated in order to assess the feasibility of both materials as biodegradable implants. Though the crystalline Mg(70) Zn(23) Ca(5) Pd(2) sample shows lower wettability and more positive corrosion potential, this sample degrades much faster upon incubation in HBSS as a consequence of the formation of micro-galvanic couples between the nobler Pd-rich dendrites and the surrounding phases. After 22-h immersion, the concentration of Mg ions in the HBSS medium containing the Mg(70) Zn(23) Ca(5) Pd(2) sample is six times larger than for Mg(72) Zn(23) Ca(5) . Due to the Zn enrichment and the incipient porosity, the mechanical properties of the Mg(72) Zn(23) Ca(5) sample improve within the first stages of biodegradation (i.e., hardness increases while the Young’s modulus decreases, thus rendering an enhanced wear resistance). Cytocompatibility studies reveal that neither Mg(72) Zn(23) Ca(5) nor Mg(70) Zn(23) Ca(5) Pd(2) are cytotoxic, although preosteoblast cell adhesion is to some extent precluded, particularly onto the surface of Mg(70) Zn(23) Ca(5) Pd(2) , because of the relatively high hydrophobicity. Because of their outstanding properties and their time-evolution, the use of the Pd-free alloy in temporary implants such as screws, stents, and sutures is envisioned. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part A, 2013.

Concepts: Bioremediation, Zinc, Microbial biodegradation, Biodegradability prediction, Young's modulus, Biodegradation, Solid, Materials science


Dispersants are important tools for stimulating the biodegradation of large oil spills. They are essentially a bioremediation tool - aiming to stimulate the natural process of aerobic oil biodegradation by dispersing oil into micron-sized droplets that become so dilute in the water column that the natural levels of biologically available nitrogen, phosphorus and oxygen are sufficient for microbial growth. Many studies demonstrate the efficacy of dispersants in getting oil off the water surface. Here we show that biodegradation of dispersed oil is prompt and extensive when oil is present at the ppm levels expected from a successful application of dispersants - more than 80% of the hydrocarbons of lightly weathered Alaska North Slope crude oil were degraded in 60d at 8°C in unamended New Jersey (USA) seawater when the oil was present at 2.5ppm by volume. The apparent halftime of the biodegradation of the hydrocarbons was 13.8d in the absence of dispersant, and 11d in the presence of Corexit 9500 - similar to rates extrapolated from the field in the Deepwater Horizon response.

Concepts: Hydrogen, Bioremediation, Microbial biodegradation, Alaska, Oil spill, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Water, Petroleum


Prediction of the biodegradability of organic pollutants is an ecologically desirable and economically feasible tool for estimating the environmental fate of chemicals. In this paper, linear and nonlinear relationships between biological oxygen demand (BOD) and molecular descriptors/fragments have been investigated for 1130 organic chemicals. Significant relationships have been observed between the simple molecular descriptors and %BOD for some homologous compounds, but not for the whole set of compounds. Electronic parameters, such as E(HOMO) and E(LUMO), are the dominant factors affecting the biodegradability for some homologous chemicals. However, other descriptors, such as molecular weight, acid dissociation constant and polarity still have a significant impact on the biodegradation. The best global model for %BOD prediction is that developed from a chain-based fragmentation scheme. At the same time, the theoretical relationship between %BOD and molecular descriptors/fragments has been investigated, based on a first-order kinetic process. The %BOD is nonlinearly, rather than linearly, related to the descriptors. The coefficients of determination can be significantly improved by using nonlinear models for the homologous compounds and the whole data set. After analysing 1130 ready and not ready biodegradable compounds using 23 simple descriptors and various fragmentation schemes, it was revealed that biodegradation could be well predicted from a chain-based fragmentation scheme, a decision tree and a %BOD model. The models were capable of separating NRB and RB with an overall accuracy of 87.2%, 83.0% and 82.5%, respectively. The best classification model developed was a chain-based model but it used 155 fragments. The simplest model was a decision tree which only used 10 structural fragments. The effect of structures on the biodegradation has been analysed and the biodegradation pathway and mechanisms have been discussed based on activating and inactivating fragments.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Microbial biodegradation, Biodegradability prediction, Chemistry, Biodegradation, Scientific method, Molecule, Oxygen


Nicotine in tobacco is harmful to health and the environment, so there is an environmental requirement to remove nicotine from tobacco and tobacco wastes. In this study, the biotransformation of nicotine by Rhodococcus sp. Y22 was investigated, and three metabolites (NIC1, NIC4 and NIC5) were isolated by column separation, preparative TLC and solid plate’s method, respectively. NIC1 was identified as 6-hydoxynicotine based on the results of NMR, MS, HPLC-UV and HRESIMS analysis; NIC4 was a novel compound and identified as 5-(3-methyl-[1,3]oxazinan-2-ylidene)-5H-pyridin-2-one based on the results of NMR, MS and UV analysis; NIC5 was identified as nicotine blue based on the results of NMR and MS analysis. Meanwhile, two metabolites NIC2 and NIC3 were identified as 6-hydroxy-N-methylmyosmine and 6-hydroxypseudooxynicotine by HRESIMS analysis, respectively. According to these metabolites, the possible pathway of nicotine degradation by Rhodococcus sp. Y22 was proposed. The nicotine can be transformed to nicotine blue through two pathways (A and B), and 6-hydroxy-N-methylmyosmine is the key compound, which can be converted to 6-hydroxypseudooxynicotine (pathway A) and 5-(3-methyl-[1,3]oxazinan-2-ylidene)-5H-pyridin-2-one (pathway B), respectively. Moreover, the encoding gene of nicotine dehydrogenase, ndh, was amplified from Rhodococcus sp. Y22, and its transcriptional level could be up-regulated obviously under nicotine induction. Our studies reported the key metabolites and possible biotransformation pathway of nicotine in Rhodococcus sp. Y22, and provided new insights into the microbial metabolism of nicotine.

Concepts: The Key, Adenosine triphosphate, Organism, Archaea, Metabolic pathway, Bacteria, Microbial biodegradation, Metabolism


Marine subsurface environments such as deep-sea sediments, house abundant and diverse microbial communities that are believed to influence large-scale geochemical processes. These processes include the biotransformation and mineralization of numerous petroleum constituents. Thus, microbial communities in the Gulf of Mexico are thought to be responsible for the intrinsic bioremediation of crude oil released by the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. While hydrocarbon contamination is known to enrich for aerobic, oil-degrading bacteria in deep-seawater habitats, relatively little is known about the response of communities in deep-sea sediments, where low oxygen levels may hinder such a response. Here, we examined the hypothesis that increased hydrocarbon exposure results in an altered sediment microbial community structure that reflects the prospects for oil biodegradation under the prevailing conditions. We explore this hypothesis using metagenomic analysis and metabolite profiling of deep-sea sediment samples following the DWH oil spill. The presence of aerobic microbial communities and associated functional genes was consistent among all samples, whereas, a greater number of Deltaproteobacteria and anaerobic functional genes were found in sediments closest to the DWH blowout site. Metabolite profiling also revealed a greater number of putative metabolites in sediments surrounding the blowout zone relative to a background site located 127 km away. The mass spectral analysis of the putative metabolites revealed that alkylsuccinates remained below detection levels, but a homologous series of benzylsuccinates (with carbon chain lengths from 5 to 10) could be detected. Our findings suggest that increased exposure to hydrocarbons enriches for Deltaproteobacteria, which are known to be capable of anaerobic hydrocarbon metabolism. We also provide evidence for an active microbial community metabolizing aromatic hydrocarbons in deep-sea sediments of the Gulf of Mexico.

Concepts: Microbial biodegradation, Bacteria, Metabolism, Bioremediation, Hydrocarbon, Microbiology, Carbon, Petroleum


While biodegradation of chemically dispersed oil has been well documented, only a few studies have focused on the degradation of the dispersant compounds themselves. The objective of this study was to determine the biodegradation of dispersant surfactants in cold seawater, relevant for deep sea or Arctic conditions. Biotransformation of the surfactants dioctyl-sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS), Tween 80, Tween 85, and α/β-ethylhexylsulfosuccinate (EHSS, expected DOSS hydrolysis product) in the commercial dispersants Corexit 9500, Dasic Slickgone NS and Finasol OSR52 were determined. The biotransformation studies of the surfactants were performed in natural seawater at 5 °C over a period of 54 days without oil present. The surfactants were tested at concentrations of 1, 5, and 50 mg/L, the lower concentration being as close as possible to expected field concentrations. Experiments with dispersants concentrations of 1 mg/L resulted in rapid biotransformation of Tween 80 and Tween 85, with depletion after 8 days, while DOSS showed rapid biotransformation after a lag period of 16 days. The degradation half-life of DOSS increased from 4.1 days to >500 days as Corexit 9500 concentrations went from 1 mg/L to 50 mg/L, emphasizing the importance of performing experiments at dispersant concentrations as close as possible to environmentally relevant concentrations. EHSS showed limited degradation compared to other surfactants. This study shows that the surfactants DOSS, Tween 80 and Tween 85 in the three chemical dispersants studied are biodegradable in cold seawater, particularly in environmentally relevant concentrations.

Concepts: Biodegradation, Microbial biodegradation, Detergent, Cultural studies, Dispersant, Bioremediation, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Chemistry


The contamination of agricultural lands by pesticides is a serious environmental issue. Consequently, the development of bioremediation methods for different active ingredients, such as pyrethroids, is essential. In this study, the enantioselective biodegradation of (±)-lambda-cyhalothrin ((±)-LC) by marine-derived fungi was studied. Experiments were performed with different fungi strains (Aspergillus sp. CBMAI 1829, Acremonium sp. CBMAI 1676, Microsphaeropsis sp. CBMAI 1675 and Westerdykella sp. CBMAI 1679) in 3% malt liquid medium with 100 mg L-1of (±)-LC. All strains biodegraded this insecticide and the residual concentrations of (±)-LC (79.2-55.2 mg L-1, i.e., 20.8-44.8% biodegradation), their enantiomeric excesses (2-42% ee) and the 3-phenoxybenzoic acid (PBAc) concentrations (0.0-4.1 mg L-1) were determined. In experiments for 28 days of biodegradation in the absence and presence of artificial seawater (ASW) with the most efficient strain Aspergillus sp. CBMAI 1829, increasing concentrations of PBAc with (0.0-4.8 mg L-1) and without ASW (0.0-15.3 mg L-1) were observed. In addition, a partial biodegradation pathway was proposed. All the evaluated strains biodegraded preferentially the (1R,3R,αS)-gamma-cyhalothrin enantiomer. Therefore, marine-derived fungi enantioselectively biodegraded (±)-LC and can be applied in future studies for bioremediation of contaminated areas. This enantioselective biodegradation indicates that the employment of the most active enantiomer GC as insecticide not only enable the use of a lower amount of pesticide, but also a more easily biodegradable product, reducing the possibility of environmental contamination.

Concepts: Pesticide, Soil contamination, Chirality, Microbial biodegradation, Biodegradation, Bioremediation, Enantiomer, Enantiomeric excess