Assessment of anaerobic benzene degradation potential using 16S rRNA gene-targeted real-time PCR


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Benzene is a common groundwater pollutant that is often recalcitrant under the anaerobic conditions that prevail at hydrocarbon-contaminated aquifers. Thus, determining the potential for anaerobic benzene degradation is important to assess the feasibility of intrinsic bioremediation. In this work we developed a 16S rRNA biomarker to estimate the concentration of putative benzene degraders in a methanogenic consortium that has been enriched on benzene for several years. Primers were designed based on phylogenetic information from this consortium. The primers and probe were obtained by sequencing the dominant denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis band of this consortium, which corresponded to Desulfobacterium sp. clone OR-M2. No hybridization was observed with DNA samples from negative controls (i.e. toluene-degrading and dehalorespiring methanogenic consortia that do not degrade benzene). Samples from an anaerobic aquifer column that was bioaugmented with this benzene-degrading consortium showed a strong correlation between benzene degradation activity and the concentration of the target organism. Although our data do not prove that Desulfobacterium sp. is a benzene degrader, its enrichment as a result of benzene consumption and its correlation to anaerobic benzene degradation activity suggest that it either initiates benzene degradation or is a critical (commensal) partner. Therefore, the utility of this primers and probe set to assess anaerobic benzene degradation potential was demonstrated. This is the first report of the use of real-time quantitative PCR for forensic analysis of anaerobic benzene degradation. Whether this biomarker will be adequately selective and broadly applicable to assess benzene degradation potential under strongly anaerobic (sulfate reducing and methanogenic) conditions will require further research.