Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 16, Issue 7, pp 830–843 | Cite as

Bacteria associated with oak and ash on a TCE-contaminated site: characterization of isolates with potential to avoid evapotranspiration of TCE

  • Nele Weyens
  • Safiyh Taghavi
  • Tanja Barac
  • Daniel van der Lelie
  • Jana Boulet
  • Tom Artois
  • Robert Carleer
  • Jaco Vangronsveld


Background, aim, and scope

Along transects under a mixed woodland of English Oak (Quercus robur) and Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) growing on a trichloroethylene (TCE)-contaminated groundwater plume, sharp decreases in TCE concentrations were observed, while transects outside the planted area did not show this remarkable decrease. This suggested a possibly active role of the trees and their associated bacteria in the remediation process. Therefore, the cultivable bacterial communities associated with both tree species growing on this TCE-contaminated groundwater plume were investigated in order to assess the possibilities and practical aspects of using these common native tree species and their associated bacteria for phytoremediation. In this study, only the cultivable bacteria were characterized because the final aim was to isolate TCE-degrading, heavy metal resistant bacteria that might be used as traceable inocula to enhance bioremediation.

Materials and methods

Cultivable bacteria isolated from bulk soil, rhizosphere, root, stem, and leaf were genotypically characterized by amplified rDNA restriction analysis (ARDRA) of their 16S rRNA gene and identified by 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Bacteria that displayed distinct ARDRA patterns were screened for heavy metal resistance, as well as TCE tolerance and degradation, as preparation for possible future in situ inoculation experiments. Furthermore, in situ evapotranspiration measurements were performed to investigate if the degradation capacity of the associated bacteria is enough to prevent TCE evapotranspiration to the air.

Results and discussion

Between both tree species, the associated populations of cultivable bacteria clearly differed in composition. In English Oak, more species-specific, most likely obligate endophytes were found. The majority of the isolated bacteria showed increased tolerance to TCE, and TCE degradation capacity was observed in some of the strains. However, in situ evapotranspiration measurements revealed that a significant amount of TCE and its metabolites was evaporating through the leaves to the atmosphere.

Conclusions and perspectives

The characterization of the isolates obtained in this study shows that the bacterial community associated with Oak and Ash on a TCE-contaminated site, was strongly enriched with TCE-tolerant strains. However, this was not sufficient to degrade all TCE before it reaches the leaves. A possible strategy to overcome this evapotranspiration to the atmosphere is to enrich the plant-associated TCE-degrading bacteria by in situ inoculation with endophytic strains capable of degrading TCE.


Chlorinated solvents Fraxinus excelsior Phytoremediation Plant-associated bacteria Quercus robur TCE Evapotranspiration Endophytes 



This research was funded by the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation through Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT-Vlaanderen) for N.W. and by the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO-Vlaanderen), Ph.D. grant for J.B. and postdoc grant for T.B. This work was also supported by the UHasselt Methusalem project 08M03VGRJ. D.v.d.L. and S.T. are supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, BER, project number KP1102010 under contract DE-AC02-98CH10886, and by Laboratory Directed Research and Development funds (LDRD05-063) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy. We thank A. Wijgaerts and C. Put for their help with the isolation and J. Put, J. Czech, and R. Carleer for GC analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nele Weyens
    • 1
  • Safiyh Taghavi
    • 4
  • Tanja Barac
    • 1
  • Daniel van der Lelie
    • 4
  • Jana Boulet
    • 1
  • Tom Artois
    • 2
  • Robert Carleer
    • 3
  • Jaco Vangronsveld
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental BiologyHasselt UniversityDiepenbeekBelgium
  2. 2.Biodiversity, Phylogeny and Population StudiesHasselt UniversityDiepenbeekBelgium
  3. 3.Applied ChemistryHasselt UniversityDiepenbeekBelgium
  4. 4.Biology DepartmentBrookhaven National Laboratory (BNL)UptonUSA

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