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Alkane Biodegradation

R. A. Kerr Science 329, 734-735 (2010)

Saturated hydrocarbons Large fraction of crude oil Solubility decreases with chain length (straight chains) Can also be branched chains or rings Branched chains are more difficult to degrade than straight chains
Boiling point [C] -162 -89 -42 0 69 126 151 174 216 287 343 450 525 575 625 Melting point [C] -182 -183 -188 -138 -95 -57 -54 -30 -10 19 37 66 82 91 100 5.2 x 10 -5 3.1 x 10 -7 0.05

Alkane Methane Ethane Propane Butane Hexane Octane Nonane Decane Dodecane Hexadecane Icosane Triacontane

Formula CH4 C2H6 C3H8 C4H10 C6H14 C8H18 C9H20 C10H22 C12H26 C16H34 C20H42 C30H62


at 20 C gas gas gas gas liquid liquid liquid liquid liquid liquid solid solid solid solid solid



Tetracontane C40H82 Pentacontane C50H102 Hexacontane C60H122

n-alkane aerobic degradation pathways

Diterminal oxidation Terminal oxidation Subterminal oxidation

OH O H O OH O HO O H O O HO O OH OH -oxidation OH O O




Callaghan 2006, Biodegradation 1990 1:79-92

Aerobic degradation

Oxygen-dependent reactions Formation of fatty acids, followed by -oxidation Biosurfactants may be required before degradation can begin

Branched alkanes
More difficult to degrade than n-alkanes

Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 2000;66:4462-4467

Alkane biodegradation-anaerobic

Environ. Microbiol. 2009 11(10):2477-2490


Bioremediation using biological systems to treat contaminated sites Biodegradation biological activity that results in the break down of a specific contaminant Bioaugmentation adding biodegrading organisms to the contaminated site (not genetically manipulated) Biostimulation adding nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorus in order to stimulate microbial activity

Case study: Deepwater Horizon

Louisiana crude oil Predominantly alkanes, lower concentrations of aromatics Oil in a large plume near the wellhead, 1 km depth Also surface oil, mobilized oil, reaching shoreline/sensitive wetland areas nit_on_fire_2010.jpg April 21, 2010

Deepwater Horizon-physical/chemical remediation

Burning not environmentally smart greenhouse gases, toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere /catastrophe-in-the-gulf-2/

Physical removal-does not remove all of the oil; there is water recovered as well, would need to be separated from the oil Chemical dispersion -oil-spill-top-kill-failure-means-well-may-gushuntil-August / ml

Oil washing up in wetland area

Adding dispersant to gushing oil

E. Kintisch Science 329, 735-736 (2010)

Studying the spill

Sample collection

Biodegradation concerns
Bacteria are located at the oil-water interface, not inside the oil droplets Smaller droplets (dispersed oil) give more surface area to increase biodegradation.

Explosions in bacterial growth would deplete available nutrients and ultimately slow degradation Oxygen consumption possible dead zones? Sedimentation deposition in anaerobic zones in sediment

Oil-degrading microbes
Hazen et al. (2010) found 2-fold higher cell densities within the plume. Enrichment in plume for Oceanospirillales Some oxygen depletion in the plume, not enough to create anoxic dead zones Enough oxygen loss to indicate aerobic activity Increased degradation genes in plume Valentine et al. (2010) found oxygen depletion in the plume to be driven by ethane and propane metabolism

Image from Hoi-Ying Holman group)

Oil consuming bacteria on oil droplets, 1500x magnification Johannes Zedelius, MPI Bremen