Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology (ISME)
Volume 5, pp 486–496
Microbial Biodegradation of Aromatic Alkanoic Naphthenic Acids is Affected by the Degree of Alkyl Side Chain Branching
Naphthenic acids (NAs) occur naturally in oil sands and enter the environment through natural and anthropogenic processes. NAs comprise toxic carboxylic acids that are difficult to degrade. Information on NA biodegradation mechanisms is limited, and there are no studies on alkyl branched aromatic alkanoic acid biodegradation, despite their contribution to NA toxicity and recalcitrance. Increased alkyl side chain branching has been proposed to explain NA recalcitrance. Using soil enrichments, we examined the biodegradation of four aromatic alkanoic acid isomers that differed in alkyl side chain branching: (4′-n-butylphenyl)-4-butanoic acid (n-BPBA, least branched); (4′-iso-butylphenyl)-4-butanoic acid (iso-BPBA); (4′-sec-butylphenyl)-4-butanoic acid (sec-BPBA) and (4′-tert-butylphenyl)-4-butanoic acid (tert-BPBA, most branched). n-BPBA was completely metabolized within 49 days. Mass spectral analysis confirmed that the more branched isomers iso-, sec- and tert-BPBA were transformed to their butylphenylethanoic acid (BPEA) counterparts at 14 days. The BPEA metabolites were generally less toxic than BPBAs as determined by Microtox assay. n-BPEA was further transformed to a diacid, showing that carboxylation of the alkyl side chain occurred. In each case, biodegradation of the carboxyl side chain proceeded through beta-oxidation, which depended on the degree of alkyl side chain branching, and a BPBA degradation pathway is proposed. Comparison of 16S rRNA gene sequences at days 0 and 49 showed an increase and high abundance at day 49 of Pseudomonas (sec-BPBA), Burkholderia (n-, iso-, tert-BPBA) and Sphingomonas (n-, sec-BPBA).