Despite the knowledge on anaerobic degradation of hydrocarbons and signature metabolites in the oil reservoirs, little is known about the functioning microbes and the related biochemical pathways involved, especially about the methanogenic communities. In the present study, a methanogenic consortium enriched from high-temperature oil reservoir production water and incubated at 55 °C with a mixture of long chain n-alkanes (C(15)-C(20)) as the sole carbon and energy sources was characterized. Biodegradation of n-alkanes was observed as methane production in the alkanes-amended methanogenic enrichment reached 141.47 μmol above the controls after 749 days of incubation, corresponding to 17 % of the theoretical total. GC-MS analysis confirmed the presence of putative downstream metabolites probably from the anaerobic biodegradation of n-alkanes and indicating an incomplete conversion of the n-alkanes to methane. Enrichment cultures taken at different incubation times were subjected to microbial community analysis. Both 16S rRNA gene clone libraries and DGGE profiles showed that alkanes-degrading community was dynamic during incubation. The dominant bacterial species in the enrichment cultures were affiliated with Firmicutes members clustering with thermophilic syntrophic bacteria of the genera Moorella sp. and Gelria sp. Other represented within the bacterial community were members of the Leptospiraceae, Thermodesulfobiaceae, Thermotogaceae, Chloroflexi, Bacteroidetes and Candidate Division OP1. The archaeal community was predominantly represented by members of the phyla Crenarchaeota and Euryarchaeota. Corresponding sequences within the Euryarchaeota were associated with methanogens clustering with orders Methanomicrobiales, Methanosarcinales and Methanobacteriales. On the other hand, PCR amplification for detection of functional genes encoding the alkylsuccinate synthase α-subunit (assA) was positive in the enrichment cultures. Moreover, the appearance of a new assA gene sequence identified in day 749 supported the establishment of a functioning microbial species in the enrichment. Our results indicate that n-alkanes are converted to methane slowly by a microbial community enriched from oilfield production water and fumarate addition is most likely the initial activation step of n-alkanes degradation under thermophilic methanogenic conditions.
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