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University of Minnesota

Superfund Research Program

Isolation and Characterization of PCB Dechlorinators

Project Leader: Paige Novak
Grant Number: R21ES012810
Funding Period: 2003-2004


PCBs are recalcitrant due to their chemical stability and hydrophobicity. In PCB-contaminated sediments, biologically-mediated dechlorination results in reduced toxicity and less bioaccumulation. In the environment, however, these compounds biodegrade slowly and incompletely, making intrinsic bioremediation less desirable for the management of PCB-contaminated sites. These researchers have been working on a technology to stimulate the in situ reductive dechlorination of PCBs in contaminated sediment. Presently, the total number of PCB-dechlorinating microbes in natural samples cannot be quantified; therefore, they cannot determine whether enrichment and/or stimulation techniques result in the growth of dechlorinating bacteria in the environment. If these organisms are identified, molecular-based techniques could be developed to determine which organisms are present at a particular site and how their numbers change with time. In addition, without PCB-dechlorinating bacterial isolates or highly enriched and defined dechlorinating microbial cultures, understanding of the physiology of PCB-dechlorination (e.g., growth and biodegradation rates, nutritional needs, etc.) is limited, and thus efforts to engineer a sediment bioremediation system are significantly hampered. This research will: (1) develop highly enriched PCB-dechlorinating cultures (2-3 populations) or obtain PCB-dechlorinating bacterial isolates from Baltimore Harbor, Hudson River, Palos Verdes, and Waukegon Harbor sediment and identify the dechlorinators present, and (2) investigate the H2 affinity and threshold, electron donor specificity, electron acceptor specificity, and PCB congener specificity of these organisms.

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