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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2006 Nov;58(2):260-70.

Heterogeneous aerobic benzene-degrading communities in oxygen-depleted groundwaters.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, UK.


A sandstone aquifer beneath a petrochemicals plant (SIReN site, UK) is heterogeneously contaminated with benzene and oxygen-depleted. Despite low redox potentials in three of the most contaminated groundwaters (benzene concentrations from 17.8 to 294 mg L(-1)), we observed aerobic benzene degradation in microcosms, indicating the presence in situ of a latent community of obligate aerobic microorganisms or an active community of facultative aerobes responding rapidly to oxygen ingress. Moreover, benzene degradation occurred at the ambient pH of 8.9 and 9.4, considerably more alkaline conditions than previously reported. 16S rRNA analyses showed that the groundwater microcosm communities were distinct from each other, despite sharing the function of aerobic benzene degradation. From DNA fingerprinting, one consortium was dominated by Acidovorax spp., another by Pseudomonas spp.; these benzene-degrading consortia were similar to the in situ communities, perhaps indicating that these organisms are active in situ and degrading benzene microaerophilically or by denitrification. Conversely, in the third sample, benzene degradation occurred only after the community changed from a Rhodoferax-dominated community to a mix of Rhodococcus and Hydrogenophaga spp. Four of the main benzene-degrading strains were brought into culture: Hydrogenophaga and Pseudomonas spp., and two strains of Rhodococcus erythropolis, a ubiquitous and metabolically versatile organism.

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