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Emulating Deep-Sea Bioremediation: Oil Plume Degradation by Undisturbed Deep-Sea Microbial Communities Using a High-Pressure Sampling and Experimentation System

Antoniou E, Fragkou E, Charalampous G, Marinakis D, Kalogerakis N, Gontikaki E

Hydrocarbon biodegradation rates in the deep-sea have been largely determined under atmospheric pressure, which may lead to non-representative results. In this work, we aim to study the response of deep-sea microbial communities of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea (EMS) to oil contamination at in situ environmental conditions and provide representative biodegradation rates. Seawater from a 600 to 1000 m depth was collected using a high-pressure (HP) sampling device equipped with a unidirectional check-valve, without depressurization upon retrieval. The sample was then passed into a HP-reactor via a piston pump without pressure disruption and used for a time-series oil biodegradation experiment at plume concentrations, with and without dispersant application, at 10 MPa and 14 °C. The experimental results demonstrated a high capacity of indigenous microbial communities in the deep EMS for alkane degradation regardless of dispersant application (>70%), while PAHs were highly degraded when oil was dispersed (>90%) and presented very low half-lives (19.4 to 2.2 days), compared to published data. To our knowledge, this is the first emulation study of deep-sea bioremediation using undisturbed deep-sea microbial communities.

Energies. 2022, 15(13)