Temperature effects and substrate interactions during the aerobic biotransformation of BTEX mixtures by toluene-enriched consortia and Rhodococcus rhodochrous. Academic Article uri icon


  • A microbial consortium derived from a gasoline-contaminated aquifer was enriched on toluene (T) in a chemostat at 20 degrees C and was found to degrade benzene (B), ethylbenzene (E), and xylenes (X). Studies conducted to determine the optimal temperature for microbial activity revealed that cell growth and toluene degradation were maximized at 35 degrees C. A consortium enriched at 35 degrees C exhibited increased degradation rates of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes in single-substrate experiments; in BTEX mixtures, enhanced benzene, toluene, and xylene degradation rates were observed, but ethylbenzene degradation rates decreased. Substrate degradation patterns over a range of BTEX concentrations (0 to 80 mg/L) for individual aromatics were found to differ significantly from patterns for aromatics in mixtures. Individually, toluene was degraded fastest, followed by benzene, ethylbenzene, and the xylenes. In BTEX mixtures, degradation followed the order of ethylbenzene, toluene, and benzene, with the xylenes degraded last. A pure culture isolated from the 35 degrees C-enriched consortium was identified as Rhodococcus rhodochrous. This culture was shown to degrade each of the BTEX compounds, individually and in mixtures, following the same degradation patterns as the mixed cultures. Additionally, R. rhodochrous was shown to utilize benzene, toluene, and ethylbenzene as primary carbon and energy sources. Studies conducted with the 35 degrees C-enriched consortium and R. rhodochrous to evaluate potential substrate interactions caused by the concurrent presence of multiple BTEX compounds revealed a range of substrate interaction patterns including no interaction, stimulation, competitive inhibition, noncompetitive inhibition, and cometabolism. In the case of the consortium, benzene and toluene degradation rates were slightly enhanced by the presence of o-xylene, whereas the presence of toluene, benzene, or ethylbenzene had a negative effect on xylene degradation rates. Ethylbenzene was shown to be the most potent inhibitor of BTEX degradation by both the mixed and pure cultures. Attempted quantification of these inhibition effects in the case of the consortium suggested a mixture of competitive and noncompetitive inhibition kinetics. Benzene, toluene, and the xylenes had a negligible effect on the biodegradation of ethylbenzene by both cultures. Cometabolism of o-, m-, and p-xylene was shown to be a positive substrate interaction.

published proceedings

  • Biotechnol Bioeng

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Deeb, R. A., & Alvarez-Cohen, L.

citation count

  • 121

publication date

  • March 1999