Is interspecies hydrogen transfer needed for toluene degradation under sulfate-reducing conditions?


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Sediments from a hydrocarbon-contaminated aquifer, where periodic shifts between sulfate reduction and methanogenesis occurred, were examined to determine whether the degradation of toluene under sulfate-reducing conditions depended on interspecies hydrogen transfer. Toluene degradation under sulfate-reducing conditions was inhibited by the addition of 5 mM sodium molybdate, but the activity was not restored upon the addition of an actively growing, hydrogen-using methanogen. Toluene degradation was not inhibited in microcosms where hydrogen levels were maintained at a level theoretically sufficient to inhibit toluene degradation if the process proceeded via interspecies hydrogen transfer. Finally, the addition of carbon monoxide, a potent inhibitor of hydrogenase activity, inhibited hydrogen but not toluene consumption in sulfate-reducing microcosms. These results suggest that toluene is degraded directly by sulfate-reducing bacteria without the involvement of interspecies hydrogen transfer. The sequence of experiments used to reach this conclusion could be applied to determine the role of interspecies hydrogen transfer in the degradation of a variety of compounds in different environments or under different terminal electron-accepting conditions.