Degradation of Weathered Oil by Mixed Marine Bacteria and the Toxicity of Accumulated Water-Soluble Material to Two Marine Crustacea

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Artificially weathered crude oil was degraded by four diverse cultures of mixed marine bacteria under optimized conditions for 7 and 14 days. Loss in total weight of starting oil (30 g) ranged from 6.8–17.3% in biologically active incubations compared with only 0.9–1.1% in sterile and nutrient-limited controls. In all incubations, both neutral and acidic water-soluble fractions (WSF) were accumulated. In biologically active systems, 50.9–249.0 mg neutral and 63.3–406.8 mg acidic WSF were accumulated whereas only 6.5–11.1 mg neutral and 1.7–2.2 mg acidic WSF were accumulated in control incubations. Analysis by gas chromatography demonstrated that accumulated WSF in biologically active systems contained compounds different from those washed from the starting crude oil. Exposure of grass shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio) embryos to neutral WSF from each of the biologically active cultures resulted in high embryo mortalities relative to sterile and nutrient-limited controls which exhibited >90% hatching success and larval survival. Toxicity of neutral WSF was also demonstrated on larvae of mysids (Mysidopsis bahia). In both cases, toxicity occurred only on exposure to neutral material accumulated by active, oil-degrading cultures and not with material washed from the weathered crude oil. These results imply that unique compounds were accumulated during degradation that may have been responsible for increased toxicity.