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Hydrocarbon degradation and response of seafloor sediment bacterial community in the northern Gulf of Mexico to light Louisiana sweet crude oil

The ISME Journal (2018) | Download Citation


The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) blowout resulted in the deposition to the seafloor of up to 4.9% of 200 million gallons of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico. The petroleum hydrocarbon concentrations near the wellhead were high immediately after the spill, but returned to background levels a few years after the spill. Microbial communities in the seafloor are thought to be responsible for the degradation of hydrocarbons, however, our knowledge is primarily based upon gene diversity surveys and hydrocarbon concentration in field sediment samples. Here, we investigated the oil degradation potential and changes in bacterial community by amending seafloor sediment collected near the DWH site with crude oil and both oil and Corexit dispersant. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were rapidly degraded during the first 30 days of incubation, while alkanes were degraded more slowly. With the degradation of hydrocarbons, the relative abundances of Colwelliaceae, Alteromonadaceae, Methylococales, Alcanivorax, Bacteriovorax, and Phaeobacter increased remarkably. However, the abundances of oil-degrading bacteria changed with oil chemistry. Colwelliaceae decreased with increasing oil degradation, whereas Alcanivorax and Methylococcales increased considerably. We assembled seven genomes from the metagenome, including ones belonging to Colwellia, Alteromonadaceae, Rhodobacteraceae, the newly reported genus Woeseia, and candidate phylum NC10, all of which possess a repertoire of genes for hydrocarbon degradation. Moreover, genes related to hydrocarbon degradation were highly enriched in the oiled treatment, suggesting that the hydrocarbons were biodegraded, and that the indigenous microflora have a remarkable potential for the natural attenuation of spilled oil in the deep-sea surface sediment.

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This research was made possible by grants from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) through the research consortium on Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies (DROPPS I and II), and the Consortium on the Advanced Research of Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE). Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at ( and We thank Nina Dombrowski for assistance in metagenomic analysis, and Puspa Adhikari and Somiddho Bosu for help in sampling.

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  1. Marine Science Institute, The University of Texas at Austin, Port Aransas, TX, 78373, USA

    • Hernando P. Bacosa
    • , Deana L. Erdner
    • , Kiley W. Seitz
    • , Brett J. Baker
    •  & Zhanfei Liu
  2. Department of Marine Biology, Texas A&M University at Galveston, Galveston, TX, 77554, USA

    • Hernando P. Bacosa
  3. College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, FL, 33701, USA

    • Brad E. Rosenheim
  4. Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University East Lansing, East Lansing, MI, 48824, USA

    • Prateek Shetty


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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Hernando P. Bacosa.

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