Rapid Degradation of Deepwater Horizon Spilled Oil by Indigenous Microbial Communities in Louisiana Saltmarsh Sediments
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The Deepwater Horizon oil spill led to the severe contamination of coastal environments in the Gulf of Mexico. A previous study detailed coastal saltmarsh erosion and recovery in a number of oil-impacted and nonimpacted reference sites in Barataria Bay, Louisiana over the first 18 months after the spill. Concentrations of alkanes and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at oil-impacted sites significantly decreased over this time period. Here, a combination of DNA, lipid, and isotopic approaches confirm that microbial biodegradation was contributing to the observed petroleum mass loss. Natural abundance (14)C analysis of microbial phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) reveals that petroleum-derived carbon was a primary carbon source for microbial communities at impacted sites several months following oil intrusion when the highest concentrations of oil were present. Also at this time, microbial community analysis suggests that community structure of all three domains has shifted with the intrusion of oil. These results suggest that Gulf of Mexico marsh sediments have considerable biodegradation potential and that natural attenuation is playing a role in impacted sites.
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