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Biodegradation. 2007 Apr;18(2):211-21. Epub 2006 Jun 7.

Enhanced degradation of a mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by a defined microbial consortium in a two-phase partitioning bioreactor.

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  • 1Department of Chemical Engineering, Queen's University, K7L 3N6 Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


Biological treatment methods are effective at destroying polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and some of the highest rates of PAH degradation have been achieved using two-phase-partitioning bioreactors (TPPBs). TPPBs consist of a cell-containing aqueous phase and a biocompatible and immiscible organic phase that partitions toxic and/or recalcitrant substrates to the cells based on their metabolic demand and on maintaining the thermodynamic equilibrium of the system. In this study, the degradation of a 5-component mixture of high and low molecular weight PAHs by a defined microbial consortium of Sphingomonas aromaticivorans B0695 and Sphingomonas paucimobilis EPA505 in a TPPB was examined. The extremely low aqueous solubilities of the high molecular weight (HMW) PAHs significantly reduce their bioavailability to cells, not only in the environment, but in TPPBs as well. That is, in the two-phase system, the originally selected solvent, dodecane, was found to sequester the HMW PAHs from the cells in the aqueous phase due to the inherent high solubility of the hydrophobic compounds in this solvent. To circumvent this limitation, the initial PAH concentrations in dodecane were increased to sufficient levels in the aqueous phase to support degradation: LMW PAHs (naphthalene, phenanthrene) and fluoranthene were degraded completely in 8 h, while the HMW PAHs, pyrene and benzo[a]pyrene, were degraded by 64% and 11%, at rates of 42.9 mg l(-1) d(-1) and 7.5 mg l(-1) d(-1), respectively. Silicone oil has superior PAH partitioning abilities compared to dodecane for the HMW PAHs, and was used to improve the extent of degradation for the PAH mixture. Although silicone oil increased the bioavailability of the HMW PAHs and greater extents of biodegradation were observed, the rates of degradation were lower than that obtained in the TPPB employing dodecane.

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