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Biodegradation. 1998;9(5):369-79.

Effect of calcium on the surfactant tolerance of a fluoranthene degrading bacterium.

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  • 1Department of Marine Ecology and Microbiology, National Environmental Research Institute, Roskilde, Denmark.


Surfactants are known to increase the apparent aqueous solubility of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and may thus be used to enhance the bioavailability and thereby to stimulate the biodegradation of these hydrophobic compounds. However, surfactants may in some cases reduce or inhibit biodegradation because of toxicity to the bacteria. In this study, toxicity of surfactants on Sphingomonas paucimobilis strain EPA505 and the effect on fluoranthene mineralization were investigated using Triton X-100 as model surfactant. The data showed that amendment with 0.48 mM (0.3 g l-1) of Triton X-100 completely inhibited fluoranthene and glucose mineralization and reduced cell culturability by 100% in 24 h. Electron micrographs indicate that Triton X-100 adversely affects the functioning of the cytoplasmic membrane. However, in the presence of 4.13 mM Ca(2+)-ions, Triton X-100 more than doubled the maximum fluoranthene mineralization rate and cell culturability was reduced by only 10%. In liquid cultures divalent ions, Ca2+ in particular and Mg2+ to a lesser extent, were thus shown to be essential for the surfactant-enhanced biodegradation of fluoranthene. Most likely the Ca(2+)-ions stabilized the cell membrane, making the cell less sensitive to Triton X-100. This is the first report on a specific factor which is important for successful surfactant-enhanced biodegradation of PAHs.

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