Author(s): Leahy JG, Colwell RR
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Abstract The ecology of hydrocarbon degradation by microbial populations in the natural environment is reviewed, emphasizing the physical, chemical, and biological factors that contribute to the biodegradation of petroleum and individual hydrocarbons. Rates of biodegradation depend greatly on the composition, state, and concentration of the oil or hydrocarbons, with dispersion and emulsification enhancing rates in aquatic systems and absorption by soil particulates being the key feature of terrestrial ecosystems. Temperature and oxygen and nutrient concentrations are important variables in both types of environments. Salinity and pressure may also affect biodegradation rates in some aquatic environments, and moisture and pH may limit biodegradation in soils. Hydrocarbons are degraded primarily by bacteria and fungi. Adaptation by prior exposure of microbial communities to hydrocarbons increases hydrocarbon degradation rates. Adaptation is brought about by selective enrichment of hydrocarbon-utilizing microorganisms and amplification of the pool of hydrocarbon-catabolizing genes. The latter phenomenon can now be monitored through the use of DNA probes. Increases in plasmid frequency may also be associated with genetic adaptation. Seeding to accelerate rates of biodegradation has been shown to be effective in some cases, particularly when used under controlled conditions, such as in fermentors or chemostats.
This article was published in Microbiol Rev
and referenced in Journal of Coastal Zone Management