Petroleum-degrading microbial numbers in rhizosphere and non-rhizosphere crude oil-contaminated soil

W D Kirkpatrick, P M White, D C Wolf, G J Thoma, C M Reynolds
International Journal of Phytoremediation 2008, 10 (3): 208-19
Phytoremediation can be a cost-effective and environmentally acceptable method to clean up crude oil-contaminated soils in situ. Our research objective was to determine the effects of nitrogen (N) additions and plant growth on the number of total hydrocarbon (TH)-, alkane-, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-degrading microorganisms in weathered crude oil-contaminated soil. A warm-season grass, sudangrass (Sorghum sudanense (Piper) Stapf), was grown for 7 wk in soil with a total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) level of 16.6 g TPH/kg soil. Nitrogen was added based upon TPH-C:added total N (TPH-C:TN) ratios ranging from 44:1 to 11:1. Unvegetated and unamended controls were also evaluated. The TH-, alkane-, and PAH-degrading microbial numbers per gram of dry soil were enumerated from rhizosphere and non-rhizosphere soil for vegetated pots and non-rhizosphere soil populations were enumerated from non-vegetated pots. Total petroleum-degrading microbial numbers were also calculated for each pot. The TH-, alkane-, and PAH-degrading microbial numbers per gram of dry soil in the sudangrass rhizosphere were 3.4, 2.6, and 4.8 times larger, respectively, than those in non-rhizosphere soil across all N rates. The presence of sudangrass resulted in significantly more TH-degrading microorganisms per pot when grown in soil with a TPH-C:TN ratio of 11:1 as compared to the control. Increased plant root growth in a crude oil-contaminated soil and a concomitant increase in petroleum-degrading microbial numbers in the rhizosphere have the potential to enhance phytoremediation.

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