Original Paper

Archives of Microbiology

, Volume 163, Issue 2, pp 96-103

First online:

Anaerobic degradation of ethylbenzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons by new denitrifying bacteria

  • Ralf RabusAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie
  • , Friedrich WiddelAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie

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Anaerobic degradation of alkylbenzenes with side chains longer than that of toluene was studied in freshwater mud samples in the presence of nitrate. Two new denitrifying strains, EbN1 and PbN1, were isolated on ethylbenzene and n-propylbenzene, respectively. For comparison, two further denitrifying strains, ToN1 and mXyN1, were isolated from the same mud with toluene and m-xylene, respectively. Sequencing of 16SrDNA revealed a close relationship of the new isolates to Thauera selenatis. The strains exhibited different specific capacities for degradation of alkylbenzenes. In addition to ethylbenzene, strain EbN1 utilized toluence, but not propylbenzene. In contrast, propylbenzene-degrading strain PbN1 did not grow on toluene, but was able to utilize ethylbenzene. Strain ToN1 used toluene as the only hydrocarbon substrate, whereas strain mXyN1 utilized both toluene and m-xylene. Measurement of the degradation balance demonstrated complete oxidation of ethylbenzene to CO2 by strain EbN1. Further characteristic substrates of strains EbN1 and PbN1 were 1-phenylethanol and acetophenone. In contrast to the other isolates, strain mXyN1 did not grow on benzyl alcohol. Benzyl alcohol (also m-methylbenzyl alcohol) was even a specific inhibitor of toluene and m-xylene utilization by strain mXyN1. None of the strains was able to grow on any of the alkylbenzenes with oxygen as electron acceptor. However, polar aromatic compounds such as benzoate were utilized under both oxic and anoxic conditions. All four isolates grew anaerobically on crude oil. Gas chromatographic analysis of crude oil after growth of strain ToN1 revealed specific depletion of toluene.

Key words

Anaerobic degradation Aromatic hydrocarbons Alkylbenzenes Ethylbenzene Crude oil Denitrifying bacteria Phylogeny Thauera selenatis