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Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Mar;113(3):310-6.

The role of syntrophic associations in sustaining anaerobic mineralization of chlorinated organic compounds.

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  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA.


Stable associations of syntrophic fermentative organisms and populations that consume fermentation products play key roles in the anaerobic biodegradation of chlorinated organic contaminants. The involvement of these syntrophic populations is essential for mineralization of chlorinated aromatic compounds under methanogenic conditions. The fermentative production of low levels of hydrogen (H2) can also be used to selectively deliver a limiting electron donor to dehalogenating organisms and achieve complete dehalogenation of chlorinated aliphatic contaminants such as tetrachloroethene. Thus, tracking the abundance of syntrophically coupled populations should aid in the development and monitoring of sustainable bioremediation strategies. In this study, two complementary nucleic acid-based methods were used to identify and assess relative changes or differences in the abundance of potentially important populations in complex anaerobic microbial communities that mineralized chlorinated aromatic compounds. Population dynamics were related to the consumption and production of key metabolic substrates, intermediates, and products. Syntrophus-like populations were detected in 3-chlorobenzoate-degrading communities derived from sediment or sludge digesters. In the presence of H2-consuming populations, characterized Syntrophus species ferment benzoate, a central intermediate in the anaerobic metabolism of 3-chlorobenzoate and 2-chlorophenol. A DNA probe that targeted characterized Syntrophus species was developed and used to quantify rRNA extracted from the 3-chlorobenzoate- and 2-chlorophenol-degrading communities. The level of rRNA targeted by the Syntrophus-specific probe tracked with the formation of benzoate during metabolism of the parent compounds. Hybridizations with an Archaea-specific probe and/or measurement of methane production demonstrated that methanogens directly benefited from the influx of benzoate-derived electron donors, and the activities of Syntrophus-like and methanogenic populations in the contaminant-degrading communities were closely linked.

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