Microbial Degradation of Phenanthrene in Pristine and Contaminated Sandy Soils

Alexandra Schwarz, Eric M. Adetutu, Albert L. Juhasz, Arturo Aburto-Medina, Andrew S. Ball, Esmaeil Shahsavari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Phenanthrene mineralisation studies in both pristine and contaminated sandy soils were undertaken through detailed assessment of the activity and diversity of the microbial community. Stable isotope probing (SIP) was used to assess and identify active 13C-labelled phenanthrene degraders. Baseline profiling indicated that there was little difference in fungal diversity but a significant difference in bacterial diversity dependent on contamination history. Identification of dominant fungal and bacterial species highlighted the presence of organisms capable of degrading various petroleum-based compounds together with other anthropogenic compounds, regardless of contamination history. Community response following a simulated contamination event (14C-phenanthrene) showed that the microbial community in deep pristine and shallow contaminated soils adapted most to the presence of phenanthrene. The similarity in microbial community structure of well-adapted soils demonstrated that a highly adaptable fungal community in these soils enabled a rapid response to the introduction of a contaminant. Ten fungal and 15 bacterial species were identified as active degraders of phenanthrene. The fungal degraders were dominated by the phylum Basidiomycota including the genus Crypotococcus, Cladosporium and Tremellales. Bacterial degraders included the genera Alcanivorax, Marinobacter and Enterococcus. There was little synergy between dominant baseline microbes, predicted degraders and those that were determined to be actually degrading the contaminant. Overall, assessment of baseline microbial community in contaminated soils provides useful information; however, additional laboratory assessment of the microbial community’s ability to degrade pollutants allows for better prediction of the bioremediation potential of a soil.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)888-902
Number of pages15
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 1 May 2018


  • Bioremediation
  • Microbial communities
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Stable isotope probing (SIP)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science

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