03 Jan 2020

Influence of contaminant exposure on the development of aerobic ETBE biodegradation potential in microbial communities from a gasoline-impacted aquifer

Aerobic biodegradation of ethyl tert butyl ether (ETBE) in a gasoline-impacted aquifer was investigated in laboratory microcosms containing groundwater and aquifer material from ETBE-impacted and non-impacted locations amended with either ETBE, or ETBE plus methyl tert butyl ether (MTBE). As sole substrate, ETBE was biodegraded (maximum rate of 0.54 day−1) without a lag in ETBE-impacted microcosms but with a lag of up to 66 days in non-impacted microcosms (maximum rate of 0.38 day−1).

As co-substrate, ETBE was biodegraded preferentially (maximum rate of 0.25 and 0.99 day−1 in non-impacted and impacted microcosms, respectively) before MTBE (maximum rate of 0.24 and 0.36 day−1 in non-impacted and impacted microcosms, respectively). Further addition of ETBE and MTBE reduced lags and increased biodegradation rates. ethB gene copy numbers increased significantly (>100 fold) after exposure to ETBE, while overall cell numbers remained constant, suggesting that ethB-containing microorganisms come to dominate the microbial communities.

Deep sequencing of 16S rRNA genes identified members of the Comamonadaceae family that increased in relative abundance upon exposure to ETBE. This study demonstrates the potential for ETBE biodegradation within the unsaturated and saturated zone, and that ETBE biodegrading capability is rapidly developed and maintained within the aquifer microbial community over extended timescales.

Journal of Hazardous Materials, Volume 388, 2020, 122022 - © 2020 C.G. Nicholls, H.E.H. Mallinson, S.A. Rolfe, M. Hjort, M.J. Spence, S.F. Thornton. Published by Elsevier B.V.

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