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Frontiers in Microbiology
Vol. 5, No. xx, 20
14; Pages: 1-22

Marine coastal sediments microbial hydrocarbon degradation processes: contribution of experimental ecology in the omics’era

Cristiana Cravo-Laureau and Robert Duran

Equipe Environnement et Microbiologie, Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour, IPREM UMR CNRS  6 5254, BP 1155, 64013 Pau Cedex, France.


Coastal marine sediments, where important biological processes take place, supply essential ecosystem services. By their location, such ecosystems are particularly exposed to human activities as evidenced by the recent Deepwater Horizon disaster. This catastrophe revealed the importance to better understand the microbial processes involved on hydrocarbon degradation in marine sediments raising strong interests of the scientific community. During the last decade, several studies have shown the key role played by microorganisms in determining the fate of hydrocarbons in oil-polluted sediments but only few have taken into consideration the whole sediment’s complexity. Marine coastal sediment ecosystems are characterized by remarkable heterogeneity, owning high biodiversity and are subjected to fluctuations in environmental conditions, especially to important oxygen oscillations due to tides. Thus, for understanding the fate of hydrocarbons in such environments, it is crucial to study microbial activities, taking into account sediment characteristics, physical-chemical factors (electron acceptors, temperature), nutrients, co-metabolites availability as well as sediment’s reworking due to bioturbation activities. Key information could be collected from in situ studies, which provide an overview of microbial processes, but it is difficult to integrate all parameters involved. Microcosm experiments allow to dissect in-depth some mechanisms involved in hydrocarbon degradation but exclude environmental complexity. To overcome these lacks, strategies have been developed, by creating experiments as close as possible to environmental conditions, for studying natural microbial communities subjected to oil pollution. We present here a review of these approaches, their results and limitation, as well as the promising future of applying ‘omics’ approaches to characterize in-depth microbial communities and metabolic networks involved in hydrocarbon degradation. In addition, we present the main conclusions of our studies in this field.

Keywords: microcosm, mesocosm, molecular ecology, intertidal sediments, experimental ecology, omic’s approaches.

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