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Applied microbiology and biotechnology

Effects of co-substrates and inhibitors on the anaerobic O-demethylation of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE).


PMID 18797864

Abstract

Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) contamination is widespread in aquifers near urban areas around the world. Since this synthetic fuel oxygenate is resistant to most physical methods of treating fuel-contaminated water, biodegradation may be a useful means of remediation. Currently, information on anaerobic MTBE degradation is scarce. Depletion has been observed in soil and sediment microcosms from a variety of locations and under several redox conditions, but the responsible organisms are unknown. We are studying anaerobic consortia, enriched from contaminated sediments for MTBE-utilizing microorganisms for over a decade. MTBE degradation occurred in the presence of other fuel components and was not affected by toluene, benzene, ethanol, methanol, or gasoline. Many aryl O-methyl ethers, such as syringic acid, that are O-demethylated by acetogenic bacteria, were also O-demethylated by the MTBE-utilizing enrichment cultures. The addition of these compounds as co-substrates increased the rate of MTBE degradation, offering a potentially useful method of stimulating the MTBE degradation rate in situ. Propyl iodide caused light-reversible inhibition of MTBE degradation, suggesting that the MTBE degradation process is corrinoid dependent. The anaerobic MTBE degradation process was not directly coupled to methanogenesis or sulfidogenesis and was inhibited by the bactericidal antibiotic, rifampicin. These results suggest that MTBE degradation is mediated by acetogenic bacteria.

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