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1.  Biofilm and Planktonic Bacterial and Fungal Communities Transforming High-Molecular-Weight Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons 
High-molecular-weight polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (HMW-PAHs) are natural components of fossil fuels that are carcinogenic and persistent in the environment, particularly in oil sands process-affected water (OSPW). Their hydrophobicity and tendency to adsorb to organic matter result in low bioavailability and high recalcitrance to degradation. Despite the importance of microbes for environmental remediation, little is known about those involved in HMW-PAH transformations. Here, we investigated the transformation of HMW-PAHs using samples of OSPW and compared the bacterial and fungal community compositions attached to hydrophobic filters and in suspension. It was anticipated that the hydrophobic filters with sorbed HMW-PAHs would select for microbes that specialize in adhesion. Over 33 days, more pyrene was removed (75% ± 11.7%) than the five-ring PAHs benzo[a]pyrene (44% ± 13.6%) and benzo[b]fluoranthene (41% ± 12.6%). For both bacteria and fungi, the addition of PAHs led to a shift in community composition, but thereafter the major factor determining the fungal community composition was whether it was in the planktonic phase or attached to filters. In contrast, the major determinant of the bacterial community composition was the nature of the PAH serving as the carbon source. The main bacteria enriched by HMW-PAHs were Pseudomonas, Bacillus, and Microbacterium species. This report demonstrates that OSPW harbors microbial communities with the capacity to transform HMW-PAHs. Furthermore, the provision of suitable surfaces that encourage PAH sorption and microbial adhesion select for different fungal and bacterial species with the potential for HMW-PAH degradation.
PMCID: PMC4959499  PMID: 26850299
2.  Regulation of plasmid-encoded isoprene metabolism in Rhodococcus, a representative of an important link in the global isoprene cycle 
Environmental Microbiology  2015;17(9):3314-3329.
Emissions of biogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) form an important part of the global carbon cycle, comprising a significant proportion of net ecosystem productivity. They impact atmospheric chemistry and contribute directly and indirectly to greenhouse gases. Isoprene, emitted largely from plants, comprises one third of total VOCs, yet in contrast to methane, which is released in similar quantities, we know little of its biodegradation. Here, we report the genome of an isoprene degrading isolate, Rhodococcus sp. AD45, and, using mutagenesis shows that a plasmid-encoded soluble di-iron centre isoprene monooxygenase (IsoMO) is essential for isoprene metabolism. Using RNA sequencing (RNAseq) to analyse cells exposed to isoprene or epoxyisoprene in a substrate-switch time-course experiment, we show that transcripts from 22 contiguous genes, including those encoding IsoMO, were highly upregulated, becoming among the most abundant in the cell and comprising over 25% of the entire transcriptome. Analysis of gene transcription in the wild type and an IsoMO-disrupted mutant strain showed that epoxyisoprene, or a subsequent product of isoprene metabolism, rather than isoprene itself, was the inducing molecule. We provide a foundation of molecular data for future research on the environmental biological consumption of this important, climate-active compound.
PMCID: PMC4676930  PMID: 25727256
3.  Central Role of Dynamic Tidal Biofilms Dominated by Aerobic Hydrocarbonoclastic Bacteria and Diatoms in the Biodegradation of Hydrocarbons in Coastal Mudflats 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(10):3638-3648.
Mudflats and salt marshes are habitats at the interface of aquatic and terrestrial systems that provide valuable services to ecosystems. Therefore, it is important to determine how catastrophic incidents, such as oil spills, influence the microbial communities in sediment that are pivotal to the function of the ecosystem and to identify the oil-degrading microbes that mitigate damage to the ecosystem. In this study, an oil spill was simulated by use of a tidal chamber containing intact diatom-dominated sediment cores from a temperate mudflat. Changes in the composition of bacteria and diatoms from both the sediment and tidal biofilms that had detached from the sediment surface were monitored as a function of hydrocarbon removal. The hydrocarbon concentration in the upper 1.5 cm of sediments decreased by 78% over 21 days, with at least 60% being attributed to biodegradation. Most phylotypes were minimally perturbed by the addition of oil, but at day 21, there was a 10-fold increase in the amount of cyanobacteria in the oiled sediment. Throughout the experiment, phylotypes associated with the aerobic degradation of hydrocarbons, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (Cycloclasticus) and alkanes (Alcanivorax, Oleibacter, and Oceanospirillales strain ME113), substantively increased in oiled mesocosms, collectively representing 2% of the pyrosequences in the oiled sediments at day 21. Tidal biofilms from oiled cores at day 22, however, consisted mostly of phylotypes related to Alcanivorax borkumensis (49% of clones), Oceanospirillales strain ME113 (11% of clones), and diatoms (14% of clones). Thus, aerobic hydrocarbon biodegradation is most likely to be the main mechanism of attenuation of crude oil in the early weeks of an oil spill, with tidal biofilms representing zones of high hydrocarbon-degrading activity.
PMCID: PMC3346363  PMID: 22407688
4.  Is there a common water-activity limit for the three domains of life? 
The ISME Journal  2014;9(6):1333-1351.
Archaea and Bacteria constitute a majority of life systems on Earth but have long been considered inferior to Eukarya in terms of solute tolerance. Whereas the most halophilic prokaryotes are known for an ability to multiply at saturated NaCl (water activity (aw) 0.755) some xerophilic fungi can germinate, usually at high-sugar concentrations, at values as low as 0.650–0.605 aw. Here, we present evidence that halophilic prokayotes can grow down to water activities of <0.755 for Halanaerobium lacusrosei (0.748), Halobacterium strain 004.1 (0.728), Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 and Halococcus morrhuae (0.717), Haloquadratum walsbyi (0.709), Halococcus salifodinae (0.693), Halobacterium noricense (0.687), Natrinema pallidum (0.681) and haloarchaeal strains GN-2 and GN-5 (0.635 aw). Furthermore, extrapolation of growth curves (prone to giving conservative estimates) indicated theoretical minima down to 0.611 aw for extreme, obligately halophilic Archaea and Bacteria. These were compared with minima for the most solute-tolerant Bacteria in high-sugar (or other non-saline) media (Mycobacterium spp., Tetragenococcus halophilus, Saccharibacter floricola, Staphylococcus aureus and so on) and eukaryotic microbes in saline (Wallemia spp., Basipetospora halophila, Dunaliella spp. and so on) and high-sugar substrates (for example, Xeromyces bisporus, Zygosaccharomyces rouxii, Aspergillus and Eurotium spp.). We also manipulated the balance of chaotropic and kosmotropic stressors for the extreme, xerophilic fungi Aspergillus penicilloides and X. bisporus and, via this approach, their established water-activity limits for mycelial growth (∼0.65) were reduced to 0.640. Furthermore, extrapolations indicated theoretical limits of 0.632 and 0.636 aw for A. penicilloides and X. bisporus, respectively. Collectively, these findings suggest that there is a common water-activity limit that is determined by physicochemical constraints for the three domains of life.
PMCID: PMC4438321  PMID: 25500507
5.  Generalist hydrocarbon-degrading bacterial communities in the oil-polluted water column of the North Sea 
Microbial Biotechnology  2014;8(3):434-447.
The aim of this work was to determine the effect of light crude oil on bacterial communities during an experimental oil spill in the North Sea and in mesocosms (simulating a heavy, enclosed oil spill), and to isolate and characterize hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria from the water column. No oil-induced changes in bacterial community (3 m below the sea surface) were observed 32 h after the experimental spill at sea. In contrast, there was a decrease in the dominant SAR11 phylotype and an increase in Pseudoalteromonas spp. in the oiled mesocosms (investigated by 16S rRNA gene analysis using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis), as a consequence of the longer incubation, closer proximity of the samples to oil, and the lack of replenishment with seawater. A total of 216 strains were isolated from hydrocarbon enrichment cultures, predominantly belonging to the genus Pseudoaltero monas; most strains grew on PAHs, branched and straight-chain alkanes, as well as many other carbon sources. No obligate hydrocarbonoclastic bacteria were isolated or detected, highlighting the potential importance of cosmopolitan marine generalists like Pseudoalteromonas spp. in degrading hydrocarbons in the water column beneath an oil slick, and revealing the susceptibility to oil pollution of SAR11, the most abundant bacterial clade in the surface ocean.
PMCID: PMC4408176  PMID: 25251384
6.  Marine crude-oil biodegradation: a central role for interspecies interactions 
Aquatic Biosystems  2012;8:10.
The marine environment is highly susceptible to pollution by petroleum, and so it is important to understand how microorganisms degrade hydrocarbons, and thereby mitigate ecosystem damage. Our understanding about the ecology, physiology, biochemistry and genetics of oil-degrading bacteria and fungi has increased greatly in recent decades; however, individual populations of microbes do not function alone in nature. The diverse array of hydrocarbons present in crude oil requires resource partitioning by microbial populations, and microbial modification of oil components and the surrounding environment will lead to temporal succession. But even when just one type of hydrocarbon is present, a network of direct and indirect interactions within and between species is observed. In this review we consider competition for resources, but focus on some of the key cooperative interactions: consumption of metabolites, biosurfactant production, provision of oxygen and fixed nitrogen. The emphasis is largely on aerobic processes, and especially interactions between bacteria, fungi and microalgae. The self-construction of a functioning community is central to microbial success, and learning how such “microbial modules” interact will be pivotal to enhancing biotechnological processes, including the bioremediation of hydrocarbons.
PMCID: PMC3465203  PMID: 22591596
Hydrocarbon; Crude oil; Salt marsh; Marine microbiology; Biodegradation; Bioremediation; Microbial interactions; Biogeochemistry; Alcanivorax
7.  Microbial biodegradation of aromatic alkanoic naphthenic acids is affected by the degree of alkyl side chain branching 
The ISME journal  2010;5(3):486-496.
Naphthenic acids (NAs) occur naturally in oil sands and enter the environment through natural and anthropogenic processes. NAs comprise toxic carboxylic acids that are difficult to degrade. Information on NA biodegradation mechanisms is limited, and there are no studies on alkyl branched aromatic alkanoic acid biodegradation, despite their contribution to NA toxicity and recalcitrance. Increased alkyl side chain branching has been proposed to explain NA recalcitrance. Using soil enrichments, we examined the biodegradation of four aromatic alkanoic acid isomers that differed in alkyl side chain branching: (4′-n-butylphenyl)-4-butanoic acid (n-BPBA, least branched); (4′-iso-butylphenyl)-4-butanoic acid (iso-BPBA); (4′-sec-butylphenyl)-4-butanoic acid (sec-BPBA) and (4′-tert-butylphenyl)-4-butanoic acid (tert-BPBA, most branched). n-BPBA was completely metabolized within 49 days. Mass spectral analysis confirmed that the more branched isomers iso-, sec- and tert-BPBA were transformed to their butylphenylethanoic acid (BPEA) counterparts at 14 days. The BPEA metabolites were generally less toxic than BPBAs as determined by Microtox assay. n-BPEA was further transformed to a diacid, showing that carboxylation of the alkyl side chain occurred. In each case, biodegradation of the carboxyl side chain proceeded through beta-oxidation, which depended on the degree of alkyl side chain branching, and a BPBA degradation pathway is proposed. Comparison of 16S rRNA gene sequences at days 0 and 49 showed an increase and high abundance at day 49 of Pseudomonas (sec-BPBA), Burkholderia (n-, iso-, tert-BPBA) and Sphingomonas (n-, sec-BPBA).
PMCID: PMC3105727  PMID: 20962873
beta-oxidation; butyl phenylbutyric acid biodegradation; naphthenic acids; oil sands; bioremediation
8.  Resistance and resilience of benthic biofilm communities from a temperate saltmarsh to desiccation and rewetting 
The ISME journal  2010;5(1):30-41.
Periods of desiccation and rewetting are regular, yet stressful events encountered by saltmarsh microbial communities. To examine the resistance and resilience of microbial biofilms to such stresses, sediments from saltmarsh creeks were allowed to desiccate for 23 days, followed by rewetting for 4 days, whereas control sediments were maintained under a natural tidal cycle. In the top 2 mm of the dry sediments, salinity increased steadily from 36 to 231 over 23 days, and returned to seawater salinity on rewetting. After 3 days, desiccated sediments had a lower chlorophyll a (Chl a) fluorescence signal as benthic diatoms ceased to migrate to the surface, with a recovery in cell migration and Chl a fluorescence on rewetting. Extracellular β-glucosidase and aminopeptidase activities decreased within the first week of drying, but increased sharply on rewetting. The bacterial community in the desiccating sediment changed significantly from the controls after 14 days of desiccation (salinity 144). Rewetting did not cause a return to the original community composition, but led to a further change. Pyrosequencing analysis of 16S rRNA genes amplified from the sediment revealed diverse microbial responses, for example desiccation enabled haloversatile Marinobacter species to increase their relative abundance, and thus take advantage of rewetting to grow rapidly and dominate the community. A temporal sequence of effects of desiccation and rewetting were thus observed, but the most notable feature was the overall resistance and resilience of the microbial community.
PMCID: PMC3105671  PMID: 20596071
saltmarsh; desiccation; microbial community; stress; biofilm; microphytobenthos
9.  Diversity of Bacillus-like organisms isolated from deep-sea hypersaline anoxic sediments 
Saline Systems  2008;4:8.
The deep-sea, hypersaline anoxic brine lakes in the Mediterranean are among the most extreme environments on earth, and in one of them, the MgCl2-rich Discovery basin, the presence of active microbes is equivocal. However, thriving microbial communities have been detected especially in the chemocline between deep seawater and three NaCl-rich brine lakes, l'Atalante, Bannock and Urania. By contrast, the microbiota of these brine-lake sediments remains largely unexplored.
Eighty nine isolates were obtained from the sediments of four deep-sea, hypersaline anoxic brine lakes in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea: l'Atalante, Bannock, Discovery and Urania basins. This culture collection was dominated by representatives of the genus Bacillus and close relatives (90% of all isolates) that were investigated further. Physiological characterization of representative strains revealed large versatility with respect to enzyme activities or substrate utilization. Two third of the isolates did not grow at in-situ salinities and were presumably present as endospores. This is supported by high numbers of endospores in Bannock, Discovery and Urania basins ranging from 3.8 × 105 to 1.2 × 106 g-1 dw sediment. However, the remaining isolates were highly halotolerant growing at salinities of up to 30% NaCl. Some of the novel isolates affiliating with the genus Pontibacillus grew well under anoxic conditions in sulfidic medium by fermentation or anaerobic respiration using dimethylsulfoxide or trimethylamine N-oxide as electron acceptor.
Some of the halophilic, facultatively anaerobic relatives of Bacillus appear well adapted to life in this hostile environment and suggest the presence of actively growing microbial communities in the NaCl-rich, deep-sea brine-lake sediments.
PMCID: PMC2464584  PMID: 18541011

Results 1-9 (9)