Aerobic biodegradation of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) by pure bacterial cultures isolated from contaminated soil

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Methyl tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) has been used in gasoline as a substitute for lead-based additives, which have been demonstrated to be toxic. MTBE however, is persistent in soil and water, showing high affinity for water and low affinity for soil, and has become an important contaminant. Therefore, the aim of this work was to isolate and identify soil microorganisms capable of degrading MTBE. Two samples were taken from a gasoline-contaminated soil at a service station and 59 different bacterial strains were isolated by enrichment culture with three consecutive selective transfers. Biochemical and morphological characterization of the bacterial isolates classified them into the following groups: Bacillus, Rhodococcus, Micrococcus, Aureobacterium and Proteus. Twelve strains were selected for evaluation of MTBE biodegradation depending on visual growth and biomass production of the isolates in minimal salt broth. Six strains significantly reduced MTBE concentration (22–37%) compared to an abiotic control after 5 days of incubation. Although it has been considered that MTBE is degraded mainly by cometabolism, our results demonstrate that these microorganisms are able to reduce MTBE concentration when MTBE is the sole source of carbon.

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