Colonization, biofilm formation and biodegradation of polyethylene by a strain ofRhodococcus ruber

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Abstract

A two-step enrichment procedure led to the isolation of a strain of Rhodococcus ruber (C208) that utilized polyethylene films as sole carbon source. In liquid culture, C208 formed a biofilm on the polyethylene surface and degraded up to 8% (gravimetrically) of the polyolefin within 30 days of incubation. The bacterial adhesion to hydrocarbon assay and the salt aggregation test both showed that the cell-surface hydrophobicity of C208 was higher than that of three other isolates which were obtained from the same consortium but were less efficient than C208 in the degradation of polyethylene. Mineral oil, but not nonionic surfactants, enhanced the colonization of polyethylene and increased biodegradation by about 50%. Fluorescein diacetate (FDA) hydrolysis and protein content analysis were used to test the viability and biomass density of the C208 biofilm on the polyethylene, respectively. Both FDA activity and protein content of the biofilm in a medium containing mineral oil peaked 48-72 h after inoculation and then decreased sharply. This finding apparently reflected rapid utilization of the mineral oil adhering to the polyethylene. The remaining biofilm population continued to proliferate moderately and presumably played a major role in biodegradation of the polyethylene. Fourier transform infrared spectra of UV-photooxidized polyethylene incubated with C208 indicated that biodegradation was initiated by utilization of the carbonyl residues formed in the photooxidized polyethylene

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