Effect of biostimulants on 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT) degradation and bacterial community composition in contaminated aquifer sediment enrichments

Nicole Fahrenfeld, Jeffrey Zoeckler, Mark A. Widdowson, Amy Pruden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene (TNT) is a toxic and persistent explosive compound occurring as a contaminant at numerous sites worldwide. Knowledge of the microbial dynamics driving TNT biodegradation is limited, particularly in native aquifer sediments where it poses a threat to water resources. The purpose of this study was to quantify the effect of organic amendments on anaerobic TNT biodegradation rate and pathway in an enrichment culture obtained from historically contaminated aquifer sediment and to compare the bacterial community dynamics. TNT readily biodegraded in all microcosms, with the highest biodegradation rate obtained under the lactate amended condition followed by ethanol amended and naturally occurring organic matter (extracted from site sediment) amended conditions. Although a reductive pathway of TNT degradation was observed across all conditions, denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analysis revealed distinct bacterial community compositions. In all microcosms, Gram-negative γ- or β-Proteobacteria and Gram-positive Negativicutes or Clostridia were observed. A Pseudomonas sp. in particular was observed to be stimulated under all conditions. According to non-metric multidimensional scaling analysis of DGGE profiles, the microcosm communities were most similar to heavily TNT-contaminated field site sediment, relative to moderately and uncontaminated sediments, suggesting that TNT contamination itself is a major driver of microbial community structure. Overall these results provide a new line of evidence of the key bacteria driving TNT degradation in aquifer sediments and their dynamics in response to organic carbon amendment, supporting this approach as a promising technology for stimulating in situ TNT bioremediation in the subsurface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-190
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Microbiology
  • Bioengineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution


  • 2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene
  • Bacterial community
  • Biodegradation
  • Biostimulation
  • Energetic compounds
  • Nitroaromatic

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