Anaerobic cometabolic transformation of polycyclic and heterocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: Evidence from laboratory and field studies

Michael Safinowski, Christian Griebler, Rainer U. Meckenstock

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52 Scopus citations


The sulfate-reducing enrichment culture N47 can grow on naphthalene or 2-methylnaphthalene as the sole carbon and energy source. Here we show that the culture can furthermore cometabolically transform a variety of polycyclic and heteroaromatic compounds with naphthalene or methylnaphthalene as the auxiliary substrate. Most of the cosubstrates were converted to the corresponding carboxylic acids, frequently to several isomers. The mass spectra of specific metabolites that were extracted from supernatants of cultures containing the cosubstrates benzothiophene, benzofuran, and 1-methylnaphthalene resembled known intermediates of the anaerobic naphthalene and 2-methylnaphthalene degradation pathways (i.e., naphthyl-2-methylsuccinic acid and naphthyl-2-methylene-succinic acid). This indicates that some of the tested compounds were first methylated and then transformed to the corresponding methylsuccinic acids by a fumarate addition to the methyl group. For some of the cosubstrates, a partial or total inhibition of growth on the auxiliary substrate was observed. This was not caused by the toxicity of the individual cosubstrate itself, but by a specific combination of auxiliary substrate and cosubstrate. None of the cosubstrates tested could be utilized as the sole carbon source and electron donor by the enrichment culture N47. Field investigations at the tar-oil-contaminated aquifer, where strain N47 originated, revealed the presence of a number of metabolites similar to the ones identified in batch culture supernatants. Our findings suggest that aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic compounds can be converted by aquifer organisms and produce a variety of polar compounds that become mobile in groundwater.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4165-4173
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number13
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes


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