Extracellular Enzyme Activity Profile in a Chemically Enhanced Water Accommodated Fraction of Surrogate Oil: Toward Understanding Microbial Activities After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Academic Article uri icon


  • Extracellular enzymes and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) play a key role in overall microbial activity, growth and survival in the ocean. EPS, being amphiphilic in nature, can act as biological surfactant in an oil spill situation. Extracellular enzymes help microbes to digest and utilize fractions of organic matter, including EPS, which can stimulate growth and enhance microbial activity. These natural processes might have been altered during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill due to the presence of hydrocarbon and dispersant. This study aims to investigate the role of bacterial extracellular enzymes during exposure to hydrocarbons and dispersant. Mesocosm studies were conducted using a water accommodated fraction of oil mixed with the chemical dispersant, Corexit (CEWAF) in seawater collected from two different locations in the Gulf of Mexico and corresponding controls (no additions). Activities of five extracellular enzymes typically found in the EPS secreted by the microbial community - - and -glucosidase, lipase, alkaline phosphatase, leucine amino-peptidase - were measured using fluorogenic substrates in three different layers of the mesocosm tanks (surface, water column and bottom). Enhanced EPS production and extracellular enzyme activities were observed in the CEWAF treatment compared to the Control. Higher bacterial and micro-aggregate counts were also observed in the CEWAF treatment compared to Controls. Bacterial genera in the order Alteromonadaceae were the most abundant bacterial 16S rRNA amplicons recovered. Genomes of Alteromonadaceae commonly have alkaline phosphatase and leucine aminopeptidase, therefore they may contribute significantly to the measured enzyme activities. Only Alteromonadaceae and Pseudomonadaceae among bacteria detected here have higher percentage of genes for lipase. Piscirickettsiaceae was abundant; genomes from this order commonly have genes for leucine aminopeptidase. Overall, this study provides insights into the alteration to the microbial processes such as EPS and extracellular enzyme production, and to the microbial community, when exposed to the mixture of oil and dispersant.

published proceedings

  • Front Microbiol

altmetric score

  • 2.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Kamalanathan, M., Xu, C., Schwehr, K., Bretherton, L., Beaver, M., Doyle, S. M., ... Quigg, A.

citation count

  • 27

complete list of authors

  • Kamalanathan, Manoj||Xu, Chen||Schwehr, Kathy||Bretherton, Laura||Beaver, Morgan||Doyle, Shawn M||Genzer, Jennifer||Hillhouse, Jessica||Sylvan, Jason B||Santschi, Peter||Quigg, Antonietta

publication date

  • April 2018