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Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Mar 15;40(6):2011-7.

Fertilization stimulates anaerobic fuel degradation of antarctic soils by denitrifying microorganisms.

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  • 1School of Agricultural Science, University of Tasmania, Hobart 7001, Australia.


Human activities in the Antarctic have resulted in hydrocarbon contamination of these fragile polar soils. Bioremediation is one of the options for remediation of these sites. However, little is known about anaerobic hydrocarbon degradation in polar soils and the influence of bioremediation practices on these processes. Using a field trial at Old Casey Station, Antarctica, we assessed the influence of fertilization on the anaerobic degradation of a 20-year old fuel spill. Fertilization increased hydrocarbon degradation in both anaerobic and aerobic soils when compared to controls, but was of most benefit for anaerobic soils where evaporation was negligible. This increased biodegradation in the anaerobic soils corresponded with a shift in the denitrifier community composition and an increased abundance of denitrifiers and benzoyl-CoA reductase. A microcosm study using toluene and hexadecane confirmed the degradative capacity within these soils under anaerobic conditions. It was observed that fertilized anaerobic soil degraded more of this hydrocarbon spike when incubated anaerobically than when incubated aerobically. We conclude that denitrifiers are actively involved in hydrocarbon degradation in Antarctic soils and that fertilization is an effective means of stimulating their activity. Further, when communities stimulated to degrade hydrocarbons under anaerobic conditions are exposed to oxygen, hydrocarbon degradation is suppressed. The commonly accepted belief that remediation of polar soils requires aeration needs to be reevaluated in light of this new data.

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