Fungal/bacterial interactions during the biodegradation of TEX hydrocarbons (toluene, ethylbenzene and p-xylene) in gas biofilters operated under xerophilic conditions


Correspondence: Francesc X. Prenafeta-Boldú, IRTA - GIRO, Torre Marimon, E-08140 Caldes de Montbui, Barcelona, Catalonia Spain. Tel.: +34 93 865 43 50; fax: +34 93 895 09 54; e-mail:


The treatment of air contaminated with toluene, ethylbenzene, and p-xylene was assayed in three laboratory-scale biofilters, each consisting of two modules connected in series, packed with a pelletized organic fertilizer and inoculated with a toluene-degrading liquid enrichment culture. Biofilters were operated in parallel for 185 days in which the volumetric organic loading rate was progressively increased. The operation regime was subjected to drying out, so that packing humidity generally remained below 40%. Significant process failure occurred with ethylbenzene and p-xylene, but the toluene biofilter comparatively sustained a significant elimination capacity. Microbial community characterization by quantitative PCR and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis showed substantial fungal enrichment in the toluene biofilter. Ribotypes identical to the well-known toluene-degrading black yeast Exophiala oligosperma (Chaetotyriales) were found among the dominant species. The microbial community structure was similar in the biofilters loaded with toluene and ethylbenzene but with p-xylene was quite specific and encompassed other chaetothyrialean fungi. Several species of Actinomycetales were found in the packing while the inoculum was dominated by representatives of the Burkholderiales and Xanthomonadales. One single fungal ribotype homologous to Acremonium kiliense was detected in the inoculum. The implications of xerophilic biofilter operation on process biosafety and efficiency are discussed.