Phenanthrene, a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, becomes increasingly unavailable to microorganisms for degradation as it ages in soil. Consequently, many bioaugmentation efforts to remediate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in soil have failed. We studied the effect of repeatedly inoculating a soil with a phenanthrene-degrading Arthrobacter sp. on the mineralization kinetics of low concentrations of phenanthrene. After the first inoculation, the initial mineralization rate of 50 ng/g phenanthrene declined in a biphasic exponential pattern. By three hundred hours after inoculation, there was no difference in mineralization rates between the inoculated and uninoculated treatments even though a large fraction of the phenanthrene had not yet been mineralized. A second and third inoculation significantly increased the mineralization rate, suggesting that, though the mineralization rate declined, phenanthrene remained bioavailable. Restirring the soil, without inoculation, did not produce similar increases in mineralization rates, suggesting absence of contact between cells and phenanthrene on a larger spatial scale (>mm) is not the cause of the mineralization decline. Bacteria inoculated into soil 280 hours before the phenanthrene was added could not maintain phenanthrene degradation activity. We suggest sorption lowered bioavailability of phenanthrene below an induction threshold concentration for metabolic activity of phenanthrene-degrading bacteria.
- Phenanthrene degradation
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