Molecular analysis of surfactant-driven microbial population shifts in hydrocarbon-contaminated soil

Gregory M. Colores, Richard E. Macur, David M. Ward, William P. Inskeep

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83 Scopus citations


We analyzed the impact of surfactant addition on hydrocarbon mineralization kinetics and the associated population shifts of hydrocarbon- degrading microorganisms in soil. A mixture of radiolabeled hexadecane and phenanthrene was added to batch soil vessels. Witconol SN70 (a nonionic, alcohol ethoxylate) was added in concentrations that bracketed the critical micelle concentration (CMC) in soil (CMC') (determined to be 13 mg g-1). Addition of the surfactant at a concentration below the CMC' (2 mg g-1) did not affect the mineralization rates of either hydrocarbon. However, when surfactant was added at a concentration approaching the CMC' (10 mg g-1), hexadecane mineralization was delayed and phenanthrene mineralization was completely inhibited. Addition of surfactant at concentrations above the CMC' (40 mg g-1) completely inhibited mineralization of both phenanthrene and hexadecane. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis of 16S rRNA gene segments showed that hydrocarbon amendment stimulated Rhodococcus and Nocardia populations that were displaced by Pseudomonas and Alcaligenes populations at elevated surfactant levels. Parallel cultivation studies revealed that the Rhodococcus population can utilize hexadecane and that the Pseudomonas and Alcaligenes populations can utilize both Witconol SN70 and hexadecane for growth. The results suggest that surfactant applications necessary to achieve the CMC alter the microbial populations responsible for hydrocarbon mineralization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2959-2964
Number of pages6
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2000


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