Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 97, Issue 19, pp 8777–8793 | Cite as

Microbial communities related to volatile organic compound emission in automobile air conditioning units

  • Nina Diekmann
  • Melanie Burghartz
  • Lars Remus
  • Anna-Lena Kaufholz
  • Thorben Nawrath
  • Manfred Rohde
  • Stefan Schulz
  • Louisa Roselius
  • Jörg Schaper
  • Oliver Mamber
  • Dieter Jahn
  • Martina Jahn
Environmental biotechnology


During operation of mobile air conditioning (MAC) systems in automobiles, malodours can occur. We studied the microbial communities found on contaminated heat exchanger fins of 45 evaporators from car MAC systems which were operated in seven different regions of the world and identified corresponding volatile organic compounds. Collected biofilms were examined by scanning electron microscopy and fluorescent in situ hybridization. The detected bacteria were loosely attached to the metal surface. Further analyses of the bacteria using PCR-based single-strand conformation polymorphism and sequencing of isolated 16S rRNA gene fragments identified highly divergent microbial communities with multiple members of the Alphaproteobacteriales, Methylobacteria were the prevalent bacteria. In addition, Sphingomonadales, Burkholderiales, Bacillales, Alcanivorax spp. and Stenotrophomonas spp. were found among many others depending on the location the evaporators were operated. Interestingly, typical pathogenic bacteria related to air conditioning systems including Legionella spp. were not found. In order to determine the nature of the chemical compounds produced by the bacteria, the volatile organic compounds were examined by closed loop stripping analysis and identified by combined gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Sulphur compounds, i.e. di-, tri- and multiple sulphides, acetylthiazole, aromatic compounds and diverse substituted pyrazines were detected. Mathematical clustering of the determined microbial community structures against their origin identified a European/American/Arabic cluster versus two mainly tropical Asian clusters. Interestingly, clustering of the determined volatiles against the origin of the corresponding MAC revealed a highly similar pattern. A close relationship of microbial community structure and resulting malodours to the climate and air quality at the location of MAC operation was concluded.


Biofilms in MACs Identification of bacterial composition 16S rRNA gene sequencing Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) 



The authors thank industrial partners, the Fonts der Chemischen Industrie and the Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft for support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nina Diekmann
    • 1
  • Melanie Burghartz
    • 2
  • Lars Remus
    • 2
  • Anna-Lena Kaufholz
    • 2
  • Thorben Nawrath
    • 3
  • Manfred Rohde
    • 4
  • Stefan Schulz
    • 3
  • Louisa Roselius
    • 2
  • Jörg Schaper
    • 5
  • Oliver Mamber
    • 5
  • Dieter Jahn
    • 2
  • Martina Jahn
    • 2
  1. 1.AMODIA Bioservice GmbHBraunschweigGermany
  2. 2.Institute of MicrobiologyTechnische Universität Carolo-Wilhelmina zu BraunschweigBraunschweigGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Organic ChemistryTechnische Universität Carolo-Wilhelmina zu BraunschweigBraunschweigGermany
  4. 4.Department of Medical MicrobiologyHelmholtz-Zentrum für InfektionsforschungBraunschweigGermany
  5. 5.Firma Behr GmbH & Co. KGStuttgartGermany

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