Evidence that crude oil alkane activation proceeds by different mechanisms under sulphate-reducing and methanogenic conditions

Caroline Aitken, D M Jones, M J Maguire, Neil D. Gray, Angela Sherry, Bernie F J Bowler, Arlene Ditchfield, Steve R Larter, Ian M. Head

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Fumarate addition has been widely proposed as an initial step in the anaerobic oxidation of both aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons. Alkyl and aryl succinates have been reported as metabolites of hydrocarbon degradation in laboratory studies with both pure and enrichment cultures of sulfate-, nitrate-, and iron-reducing bacteria. In addition these compounds have been reported in samples from environments such as hydrocarbon contaminated aquifers where, in addition to the above redox processes, hydrocarbon degradation linked to methanogenesis was observed. Here we report data from anaerobic crude oil degrading microcosms which revealed significant differences between the acid metabolite profiles of crude oil degraded under sulfate-reducing or methanogenic conditions. Under sulfate-reducing conditions fumarate addition and the formation of alkylsuccinate metabolites was the principal mechanism for the anaerobic degradation of n-alkanes and branched chain alkanes. Other than alkyl succinates that represent indigenous metabolites in the sediment inoculum, alkyl succinate metabolites were never detected in sediment microcosms where methane generation was quantitatively linked to n-alkane degradation. This indicates that alternative mechanisms of alkane activation may operate under methanogenic conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109
Pages (from-to)162
Number of pages174
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


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