Several actinomycetes isolated from nature were able to use both natural rubber (NR) and synthetic cis-1,4-polyisoprene rubber (IR) as a sole source of carbon. According to their degradation behavior, they were divided into two groups. Representatives of the first group grew only in direct contact to the rubber substrate and led to considerable disintegration of the material during cultivation. The second group consisted of weaker rubber decomposers that did not grow adhesively, as indicated by the formation of clear zones (translucent halos) around bacterial colonies after cultivation on NR dispersed in mineral agar. Taxonomic analysis of four selected strains based on 16S rRNA similarity examinations revealed two Gordonia sp. strains, VH2 and Kb2, and one Mycobacterium fortuitum strain, NF4, belonging to the first group as well as one Micromonospora aurantiaca strain, W2b, belonging to the second group. Schiff's reagent staining tests performed for each of the strains indicated colonization of the rubber surface, formation of a bacterial biofilm, and occurrence of compounds containing aldehyde groups during cultivation with NR latex gloves. Detailed analysis by means of scanning electron microscopy yielded further evidence for the two different microbial strategies and clarified the colonization efficiency. Thereby, strains VH2, Kb2, and NF4 directly adhered to and merged into the rubber material, while strain W2b produced mycelial corridors, especially on the surface of IR. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy comprising the attenuated total reflectance technique was applied on NR latex gloves overgrown by cells of the Gordonia strains, which were the strongest rubber decomposers. Spectra demonstrated the decrease in number of cis-1,4 double bonds, the formation of carbonyl groups, and the change of the overall chemical environment, indicating that an oxidative attack at the double bond is the first metabolic step of the biodegradation process.
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