Living Reference Work Entry

Aerobic Utilization of Hydrocarbons, Oils and Lipids

Part of the series Handbook of Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology pp 1-18

Date: Latest Version

Global Aerobic Degradation of Hydrocarbons in Aquatic Systems

  • Sara KleindienstAffiliated withCenter for Applied Geosciences, Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen Email author 
  • , Samantha B. JoyeAffiliated withDepartment of Marine Sciences, University of Georgia


Gaseous and liquid petroleum hydrocarbons are ubiquitous in the global marine environment either as a consequence of natural inputs or via anthropogenic contamination. Specific microorganisms have the ability to utilize hydrocarbons as carbon and energy sources under both oxic and anoxic conditions. Hydrocarbon biodegradation is therefore highly beneficial as this process impacts the fate of hydrocarbons and moderates risks posed to humans and the environment by hydrocarbon exposure. This chapter describes the current knowledge of aerobic microbial hydrocarbon degradation in aqueous environments, focusing on the largest of Earth’s aquatic ecosystems – the marine environment. Natural gas and oil seeps and two major spill scenarios, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and the Prestige vessel disaster, are presented to describe how hydrocarbon-degrading microorganisms respond to slow diffusive natural discharges and to large anthropogenic pollution events. Future research challenges discussed include the development of approaches and strategies to assess aerobic microbial hydrocarbon degradation on a global scale.