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ISME J. 2007 Jun;1(2):134-48. Epub 2007 May 24.

Biphenyl-utilizing bacteria and their functional genes in a pine root zone contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

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Center for Microbial Ecology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA.


Bacteria and functional genes associated with biphenyl (BP) degradation in the root zone of an Austrian pine (Pinus nigra L.) growing naturally in polychlorinated-BP (PCB)-contaminated soil were identified using stable isotope probing (SIP) integrated with comprehensive functional gene analyses. SIP revealed 75 different genera that derived carbon from 13C-BP, with Pseudonocardia, Kribella, Nocardiodes and Sphingomonas predominating carbon acquisition. Rhodococcus spp. were not detected with SIP, despite being the most abundant BP utilizers isolated from agar plates. Only one organism, an Arthrobacter spp., was detected as a BP utilizer by both cultivation and SIP methods. Time-course SIP analyses indicated that secondary carbon flow from BP-utilizing bacteria into other soil organisms may have occurred largely between 4 and 14 days incubation. Functional gene contents of the BP-utilizing metagenome (13C-DNA) were explored using the GeoChip, a functional gene array containing 6465 probes targeting aromatic degradative genes. The GeoChip detected 27 genes, including several associated with catabolism of BP, benzoate and a variety of aromatic ring hydroxylating dioygenase (ARHD) subunits. Genes associated with the beta-ketoadipate pathway were also detected, suggesting a potential role for this plant aromatic catabolic pathway in PCB degradation. Further ARHD analyses using targeted polymerase chain reaction primers and sequence analyses revealed novel dioxygenase sequences in 13C-DNA, including several sequences that clustered distantly from all known ARHDs and others that resembled known Rhodococcus ARHDs. The findings improve our understanding of BP degradation and carbon flow in soil, reveal the extent of culture bias, and may benefit bioremediation research by facilitating the development of molecular tools to detect, quantify and monitor populations involved in degradative processes.

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