Superfund Research Program

September 2019

Site-adapted community at contaminated site, high-throughput sequencing and analyses, targeted culture designed for precision bioaugmentation, and community capable of enhanced biodegradation

Researchers use gene sequencing to identify bacteria that may enhance bioremediation at PAH-contaminated sites.
(Photo courtesy of Elsevier B.V.)

Microbes in soil can break down just about anything from fallen leaves to harmful contaminants, with the right combination of species. The Duke University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center identifies which microbial communities in soils can enhance degradation of contaminants.

The Duke researchers recently characterized microbes that can break down creosote in soil. Creosote is a type of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), a large group of hazardous chemicals commonly found at Superfund sites.

Using gene sequencing, the researchers found three types of microbes, Geobacter, Mycobacterium, and Sphingomonads, that could survive in creosote-contaminated soil and break down PAHs and other contaminants.

Characterizing microbes and their ability to break down contaminants is the first step in identifying ways to enhance bioremediation at PAH-contaminated sites. As scientists acquire more genetic data on bacteria, they aim to expand their database of microbes that can withstand and degrade PAHs, which contains information for improving bioremediation processes.