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Diversity of subsoil anaerobic microorganisms and their potential for aromatic hydrocarbons degradation


The steps involved in oil refining can generate accidental spills resulting in hydrocarbon contaminated areas, reaching as far as the subsoil and ground waters. Rehabilitation by microbial methods has been recognised as novel, cleaner and less expensive than physical-chemical techniques.

However, low or zero oxygen levels has limited the application of aerobic bacteria in the subsoil. Consequently, anaerobes significance became apparent for subsurface bioremediation. Nevertheless, evaluation of anaerobes diversity and assessment of their biotechnological potentials are meagre. Thus, it is proposed to investigate the community diversity and the potential of indigenous subsoil anaerobes for elimination of aromatic hydrocarbons.

On the one hand, it is proposed to analyse the response and evolution of the indigenous population to the presence of hydrocarbons. Within this frame, molecular tools will be used to investigate the subsoil microbial diversity without recurring to cultivation. On the other hand, bacteria with relevance to anaerobic processes are difficult to isolate in laboratory cultures.

Therefore, a special effort will be placed to recover anaerobes with hydrocarbon metabolising abilities. Examining the presence and availability of distinct electron acceptors in the subsoil and the use of site-specific pollutants as carbon sources will assist to formulate media for a successful recovery. Subsequent biochemical and genetic analyses will allow establishing the genes involved in biodegradation.

Once these are characterised, further understanding on the mechanisms behind anaerobic biodegradation will be available helping to design rational strategies to hasten and improve anoxic bioremediation processes.

The project outcomes are expected to significantly increase the scant information on subsoil anaerobes diversity and their biotechnological potential, hence contributing to the advance of scientific knowledge and technological competence in the European Union.

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