Hydrocarbon-Degrading Bacteria Exhibit a Species-Specific Response to Dispersed Oil while Moderating Ecotoxicity.

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Acinetobacter, Alcanivoraceae, Biodegradation, Environmental, Hydrocarbons, Petroleum, Petroleum Pollution, Species Specificity

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The Deepwater Horizon blowout in April 2010 represented the largest accidental marine oil spill and the largest release of chemical dispersants into the environment to date. While dispersant application may provide numerous benefits to oil spill response efforts, the impacts of dispersants and potential synergistic effects with crude oil on individual hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria are poorly understood. In this study, two environmentally relevant species of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria were utilized to quantify the response to Macondo crude oil and Corexit 9500A-dispersed oil in terms of bacterial growth and oil degradation potential. In addition, specific hydrocarbon compounds were quantified in the dissolved phase of the medium and linked to ecotoxicity using a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved rotifer assay. Bacterial treatment significantly and drastically reduced the toxicity associated with dispersed oil (increasing the 50% lethal concentration [LC50] by 215%). The growth and crude oil degradation potential of Acinetobacter were inhibited by Corexit by 34% and 40%, respectively; conversely, Corexit significantly enhanced the growth of Alcanivorax by 10% relative to that in undispersed oil. Furthermore, both bacterial strains were shown to grow with Corexit as the sole carbon and energy source. Hydrocarbon-degrading bacterial species demonstrate a unique response to dispersed oil compared to their response to crude oil, with potentially opposing effects on toxicity. While some species have the potential to enhance the toxicity of crude oil by producing biosurfactants, the same bacteria may reduce the toxicity associated with dispersed oil through degradation or sequestration.

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology, v. 82, issue 2, p. 518-527