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The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon degradation potential of Gulf of Mexico native coastal microbial communities after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Anthony D Kappell, Yin Wei, Ryan J Newton, Joy D Van Nostrand, Jizhong Zhou, Sandra L McLellan, Krassimira R Hristova
Frontiers in Microbiology 2014, 5: 205
24847320
The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) blowout resulted in oil transport, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. The microbial communities of these shorelines are thought to be responsible for the intrinsic degradation of PAHs. To investigate the Gulf Coast beach microbial community response to hydrocarbon exposure, we examined the functional gene diversity, bacterial community composition, and PAH degradation capacity of a heavily oiled and non-oiled beach following the oil exposure. With a non-expression functional gene microarray targeting 539 gene families, we detected 28,748 coding sequences. Of these sequences, 10% were uniquely associated with the severely oil-contaminated beach and 6.0% with the non-oiled beach. There was little variation in the functional genes detected between the two beaches; however the relative abundance of functional genes involved in oil degradation pathways, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), were greater in the oiled beach. The microbial PAH degradation potentials of both beaches, were tested in mesocosms. Mesocosms were constructed in glass columns using sands with native microbial communities, circulated with artificial sea water and challenged with a mixture of PAHs. The low-molecular weight PAHs, fluorene and naphthalene, showed rapid depletion in all mesocosms while the high-molecular weight benzo[α]pyrene was not degraded by either microbial community. Both the heavily oiled and the non-impacted coastal communities showed little variation in their biodegradation ability for low molecular weight PAHs. Massively-parallel sequencing of 16S rRNA genes from mesocosm DNA showed that known PAH degraders and genera frequently associated with oil hydrocarbon degradation represented a major portion of the bacterial community. The observed similar response by microbial communities from beaches with a different recent history of oil exposure suggests that Gulf Coast beach communities are primed for PAH degradation.

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