Phototroph-Heterotroph Oil-Degrading Partnerships

  • Raeid M. M. AbedEmail author
Reference work entry
Part of the Handbook of Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology book series (HHLM)


Contamination of sediments with crude oil promotes the growth of different species of phototrophs and heterotrophs. The coexistence of these two groups in oil-polluted sites suggested a possible contribution to hydrocarbon degradation; however, the exact role and interactions between phototrophs and heterotrophs in the degradation processes have only been recently evaluated. Experiments with axenic and non-axenic cultures of phototrophs suggested that they were unable to degrade hydrocarbons and degradation was mostly attributed to their associated heterotrophs. As primary producers, phototrophs do not have an innate potential for hydrocarbon degradation but can be engaged in symbiosis with oil-degrading heterotrophs. The degradation of hydrocarbons by the associated aerobic heterotrophs can promote the growth of phototrophs by reducing the concentrations of potentially toxic hydrocarbons around them, regenerating CO2 for photosynthesis, providing metabolites, and reducing the high toxic concentrations of O2. On the other hand, phototrophs can support the activity of oil-degrading heterotrophs by immobilizing them in their sheaths, providing them with O2 and fixed nitrogen (in the case of cyanobacteria), and directly supplying them with necessary organics produced by their photosynthetic and fermentation activities. It is concluded that phototrophs and heterotrophs constitute ideal consortia that are efficient in the decontamination of oil-polluted sites, compared to individual organisms. However, further research is required to find out the species specificity and the chemical substances that govern the exact relationship and interaction between phototrophs and heterotrophs.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Science, Biology DepartmentSultan Qaboos UniversityMuscatSultanate of Oman

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