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Plant-microbial association in petroleum and gas exploration sites in the state of Assam, north-east India—significance for bioremediation


The state of Assam in north-east India gained popularity in Asia because of discovery of oil. Pollution due to petroleum and gas exploration is a serious problem in Assam. Oil and gas exploration by various agencies in Assam resulted in soil pollution due to hydrocarbons (HCs) and heavy metals (HMs). Bioremediation gained considerable significance in addressing petroleum hydrocarbon polluted sites in various parts of the world. In this investigation, we have observed 15 species of plants belonging to grass growing on the contaminated soils. Among 15 species of grasses, 10 species with high important value index (IVI) were found to be better adapted. The highest IVI is exhibited by Axonopus compressus (21.41), and this grass can be identified as key ecological tool in the rehabilitation of the degraded site. But no definite correlation between the IVI and the biomass of the various grass existed in the study sites. Chemical study of rhizosphere (RS) and non-rhizosphere (NRS) soil of these grasses revealed both aromatic and aliphatic compounds (M.W. 178–456). Four-ring pyrene was detected in NRS soil but not in RS soil. Microbiological study of RS and NRS soil showed high colony-forming unit (CFU) of HC-degrading microbes in RS compared to NRS. The increased microbial catabolism in RS soil established the fact that pyrene is transformed to aliphatic compounds. Metals in RS soil ranged from (in mg kg−1) 222.6 to 267.3 (Cr), 854 to 956 (Pb) and 180 to 247 (Ni), but despite the very high total metal concentration in RS and NRS soil, the CaCl2-extracted metals were relatively low in RS soil (1.04 for Cr, 0.56 for Pb, 0.35 for Ni). Plants with the highest uptake of metals were Leersia hexandra (36.43 mg Cr kg−1) and Kyllinga brevifolia (67.73 mg Pb kg−1 and 40.24 mg Ni kg−1). These plant species could be potentially exploited for biomonitoring and bioremediation. Out of 15 plant species, 8 of them have high percentages of cellulose, crude fibres, lignin and holocellulose (14–16%). The explored species thus qualify as energy crops since they have high bioproductivity and are more resilient and adaptable in HM/HC-contaminated sites.

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The Department of Biotechnology, New Delhi provided principal funding through a grant to HS (BT/489/NE/TBP/2013). The authors are grateful to the principal of N.N. Saikia College for logistics. The help rendered by Parismita Borgohain, Sangita Sonowal, Suzata Hazarika, Jintu Sharma, Dolikajyoti Sharma and Aniruddha Sarma is thankfully acknowledged. The authors thank Mrinal Kumar Baruah for FT-IR spectra interpretation. Also, the authors thank SAIF, IIT Bombay and Tazpur University for performing some of the analysis through sophisticated instruments. HS developed test hypotheses and study design, reviewed literature, analysed data and carried out field and laboratory works and manuscript writing. NFI led the laboratory and statistical analysis. MNVP is the collaborator of this project and revised the manuscripts. The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Hemen Sarma.

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Sarma, H., Islam, N.F. & Prasad, M.N.V. Plant-microbial association in petroleum and gas exploration sites in the state of Assam, north-east India—significance for bioremediation. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 8744–8758 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-8485-8

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  • Biomass
  • Bioremediation
  • Grasses
  • Heavy metals
  • Important value index