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Green Chemistry
Vol. 17, 2015, Pages: 1479-1491

When can ionic liquids be considered readily biodegradable? Biodegradation pathways of pyridinium, pyrrolidinium and ammonium-based ionic liquids

BoonFei Tan, Kathleen Semple, Julia Foght

Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E9.


A methanogenic short-chain alkane-degrading culture (SCADC) was enriched from oil sands tailings and transferred several times with a mixture of C6, C7, C8 and C10 n-alkanes as the predominant organic carbon source, plus 2-methylpentane, 3-methylpentane and methylcyclopentane as minor components. Cultures produced ∼40% of the maximum theoretical methane during 18 months incubation while depleting the n-alkanes, 2-methylpentane and methylcyclopentane. Substrate depletion correlated with detection of metabolites characteristic of fumarate activation of 2-methylpentane and methylcyclopentane but not n-alkane metabolites. During active methanogenesis with the mixed alkanes, reverse-transcription PCR confirmed the expression of functional genes (assA and bssA) associated with hydrocarbon addition to fumarate. Pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes amplified during active alkane degradation revealed enrichment of Clostridia (particularly Peptococcaceae) and methanogenic Archaea (Methanosaetaceae and Methanomicrobiaceae). Methanogenic cultures transferred into medium containing sulphate produced sulphide, depleted n-alkanes and produced the corresponding succinylated alkane metabolites, but were slow to degrade 2-methylpentane and methylcyclopentane; these cultures were enriched in Deltaproteobacteria rather than Clostridia. 3-Methylpentane was not degraded by any cultures. Thus, nominally methanogenic oil sands tailings harbour dynamic and versatile hydrocarbon-degrading fermentative syntrophs and sulphate reducers capable of degrading n-, iso- and cyclo-alkanes by addition to fumarate.

Keywords: aliphatic hydrocarbon degradation, methanogenesis, sulphidogenesis.

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