Determination of microbial carbon sources and cycling during remediation of petroleum hydrocarbon impacted soil using natural abundance (14)C analysis of PLFA.Environ Sci Technol 2010; 44(7):2322-7ES
In a petroleum impacted land-farm soil in Sarnia, Ontario, compound-specific natural abundance radiocarbon analysis identified biodegradation by the soil microbial community as a major pathway for hydrocarbon removal in a novel remediation system. During remediation of contaminated soils by a plant growth promoting rhizobacteria enhanced phytoremediation system (PEPS), the measured Delta(14)C of phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) biomarkers ranged from -793 per thousand to -897 per thousand, directly demonstrating microbial uptake and utilization of petroleum hydrocarbons (Delta(14)C(PHC) = -1000 per thousand). Isotopic mass balance indicated that more than 80% of microbial PLFA carbon was derived from petroleum hydrocarbons (PHC) and a maximum of 20% was obtained from metabolism of more modern carbon sources. These PLFA from the contaminated soils were the most (14)C-depleted biomarkers ever measured for an in situ environmental system, and this study demonstrated that the microbial community in this soil was subsisting primarily on petroleum hydrocarbons. In contrast, the microbial community in a nearby uncontaminated control soil maintained a more modern Delta(14)C signature than total organic carbon (Delta(14)C(PLFA) = +36 per thousand to -147 per thousand, Delta(14)C(TOC) = -148 per thousand), indicating preferential consumption of the most modern plant-derived fraction of soil organic carbon. Measurements of delta(13)C and Delta(14)C of soil CO(2) additionally demonstrated that mineralization of PHC contributed to soil CO(2) at the contaminated site. The CO(2) in the uncontaminated control soil exhibited substantially more modern Delta(14)C values, and lower soil CO(2) concentrations than the contaminated soils, suggesting increased rates of soil respiration in the contaminated soils. In combination, these results demonstrated that biodegradation in the soil microbial community was a primary pathway of petroleum hydrocarbon removal in the PEPS system. This study highlights the power of natural abundance radiocarbon for determining microbial carbon sources and identifying biodegradation pathways in complex remediation systems.