Identifying polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria in oil-contaminated surface waters at Deepwater Horizon by cultivation, stable isotope probing and pyrosequencing
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- Gutierrez, T. Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol (2011) 10: 301. doi:10.1007/s11157-011-9252-9
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Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are an important class of chemical pollutants that constitute a major component of total hydrocarbons in crude oils. Based on their poor water solubility, toxicity, persistence and potential to bioaccumulate, these compounds are recognized as high-priority pollutants in the environment and are of significant concern for human health. At oil-contaminated sites, PAH-degrading bacteria perform a critical role in the degradation and ultimate removal of these compounds. In April 2010, enormous quantities of PAHs entered the Gulf of Mexico from the thousands of tons of oil that were released from the ill-fated drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. In the ensuing months after the spill, intense research efforts were devoted to characterizing the microorganisms responsible for degrading the oil, particularly in deep waters where a large oil plume, enriched with aliphatic and low molecular-weight aromatic hydrocarbons, was found in the range of 1,000–1,300 m. PAHs, however, were found mainly confined to surface waters. This paper discusses efforts utilizing DNA-based stable isotope probing, cultivation-based techniques and metagenomics to characterize the bacterial guild associated with PAH degradation in oil-contaminated surface waters at Deepwater Horizon.