To investigate the factors affecting benzene biodegradation and microbial community composition in a contaminated aquifer. We identified the microbial community in groundwater samples from a benzene-contaminated aquifer situated below a petrochemical plant. Eleven out of twelve groundwater samples with in situ dissolved oxygen concentrations between 0 and 2.57 mg l(-1) showed benzene degradation in aerobic microcosm experiments, whereas no degradation in anaerobic microcosms was observed. The lack of aerobic degradation in the remaining microcosm could be attributed to a pH of 12.1. Three groundwaters, examined by 16S rRNA gene clone libraries, with low in situ oxygen concentrations and high benzene levels, each had a different dominant aerobic (or denitrifying) population, either Pseudomonas, Polaromonas or Acidovorax species. These groundwaters also had syntrophic organisms, and aceticlastic methanogens were detected in two samples. The alkaline groundwater was dominated by organisms closely related to Hydrogenophaga. Results show that pH 12.1 is inimical to benzene biodegradation, and that oxygen concentrations below 0.03 mg l(-1) can support aerobic benzene-degrading communities. These findings will help to guide the treatment of contaminated groundwaters, and raise questions about the extent to which aerobes and anaerobes may interact to effect benzene degradation.
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