Identification of a Ruminococcaceae Species as the Methyl tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) Degrading Bacterium in a Methanogenic Consortium

Tong Liu, Hyeri Ahn, Weimin Sun, Lora R. McGuinness, Lee J. Kerkhof, Max M. Häggblom

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The widespread use of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) has caused major contamination of groundwater sources and is a concern due to its taste and odor problems, as well as its toxicity. MTBE can be degraded anaerobically which makes bioremediation of contaminated aquifers a potential solution. Nevertheless, the organisms and mechanisms that are responsible for anaerobic MTBE degradation are still unknown. The aim of our research was to identify the organisms actively degrading MTBE. For this purpose we characterized an anaerobic methanogenic culture enriched with MTBE as the sole carbon source from the New Jersey Arthur Kill intertidal strait sediment. The cultures were analyzed using stable isotope probing (SIP) combined with terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP), high-throughput sequencing and clone library analysis of bacterial 16S rRNA genes. The sequence data indicated that phylotypes belonging to the Ruminococcaceae in the Firmicutes were predominant in the methanogenic cultures. SIP experiments also showed sequential incorporation of the 13C labeled MTBE by the bacterial community with a bacterium most closely related to Saccharofermentans acetigenes identified as the bacterium active in O-demethylation of MTBE. Identification of the microorganisms responsible for the activity will help us better understand anaerobic MTBE degradation processes in the field and determine biomarkers for monitoring natural attenuation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1455-1464
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2 2016


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry

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