Investigating the Microbial Degradation Potential in Oil Sands Fluid Fine Tailings Using Gamma Irradiation: A Metagenomic Perspective

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Abstract

Open-pit mining of the Athabasca oil sands has generated large volumes of waste termed fluid fine tailings (FFT), stored in tailings ponds. Accumulation of toxic organic substances in the tailings ponds is one of the biggest concerns. Gamma irradiation (GI) treatment could accelerate the biodegradation of toxic organic substances. Hence, this research investigates the response of the microbial consortia in GI-treated FFT materials with an emphasis on changes in diversity and organism-related stimuli. FFT materials from aged and fresh ponds were used in the study under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Variations in the microbial diversity in GI-treated FFT materials were monitored for 52 weeks and significant stimuli (p < 0.05) were observed. Chemoorganotrophic organisms dominated in fresh and aged ponds and showed increased relative abundance resulting from GI treatment. GI-treated anaerobic FFTaged reported stimulus of organisms with biodegradation potential (e.g., Pseudomonas, Enterobacter) and methylotrophic capabilities (e.g., Syntrophus, Smithella). In comparison, GI-treated anaerobic FFTfresh stimulated Desulfuromonas as the principle genus at 52 weeks. Under aerobic conditions, GI-treated FFTaged showed stimulation of organisms capable of sulfur and iron cycling (e.g., Geobacter). However, GI-treated aerobic FFTfresh showed no stimulus at 52 weeks. This research provides an enhanced understanding of oil sands tailings biogeochemistry and the impacts of GI treatment on microorganisms as an effect for targeting toxic organics. The outcomes of this study highlight the potential for this approach to accelerate stabilization and reclamation end points. [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

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VanMensel, D., Chaganti, S. R., Boudens, R., Reid, T., Ciborowski, J., & Weisener, C. (2017). Investigating the Microbial Degradation Potential in Oil Sands Fluid Fine Tailings Using Gamma Irradiation: A Metagenomic Perspective. Microbial Ecology, 74(2), 362–372. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-017-0953-7

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