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Environ. Sci. Technol

Biodegradation: Updating the Concepts of Control for Microbial Cleanup in Contaminated Aquifers

Rainer U. Meckenstock, Martin Elsner, Christian Griebler, Tillmann Lueders, Christine Stumpp, Jens Aamand, Spiros N. Agathos, Hans-Jørgen Albrechtsen, Leen Bastiaens, Poul L. Bjerg, Nico Boon, Winnie Dejonghe, Wei E. Huang, Susanne I. Schmidt, Erik Smolders, Sebastian R. Sørensen, Dirk Springael, and Boris M. van Breukelen

University of Duisburg-Essen, Biofilm Centre, Universitätsstrasse 5, 45141 Essen, Germany.


Biodegradation is one of the most favored and sustainable means of removing organic pollutants from contaminated aquifers but the major steering factors are still surprisingly poorly understood. Growing evidence questions some of the established concepts for control of biodegradation. Here, we critically discuss classical concepts such as the thermodynamic redox zonation, or the use of steady state transport scenarios for assessing biodegradation rates. Furthermore, we discuss if the absence of specific degrader populations can explain poor biodegradation. We propose updated perspectives on the controls of biodegradation in contaminant plumes. These include the plume fringe concept, transport limitations, and transient conditions as currently underestimated processes affecting biodegradation.

Graphical abstract


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