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Microbial Ecology of Naphthenic Acid (NA) Degradation

  • Karl Skeels
  • Corinne WhitbyEmail author
Reference work entry
Part of the Handbook of Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology book series (HHLM)

Abstract

Bitumen extraction produces large amounts of oil sands process-affected waters (OSPW) which are stored in vast tailings ponds. OSPW is acutely toxic to many organisms, and this toxicity is largely attributed to the presence of naphthenic acids (NAs). NAs are complex mixtures of organic compounds, including acyclic and cyclic, saturated and aromatic carboxylic acids, which traditionally fit the general formula CnH2n+zO2. Di-, tri-, tetra-, and pentacyclic diamondoid acids as well as structures that contain more than two oxygen atoms (Oxy-NAs) and/or nitrogen and sulfur have also been identified. NAs may originate from either anthropogenic (e.g., tailings ponds) or natural (e.g., Athabasca River sediments) sources. Although many studies have focused on the biodegradation of either model or commercial NAs, many of those NAs found in the environment are recalcitrant to biodegradation. Currently, little is known about the ecology of NA-degrading microorganisms and the range of NAs that they metabolize. Typically, mixed microbial communities from environments that have a history of NA contamination, such as those found in oil sands and OSPW, can degrade NAs, including recalcitrant NAs, more quickly than pure cultures. Indeed, microorganisms capable of effective NA degradation include members of the Proteobacteria, particularly Pseudomonas spp. However, NA structure and composition, as well as environmental factors such as the presence of specific electron acceptors, trace metals, and competition for substrates from non-NA-degrading microbes, are important drivers in shaping NA-degrading microbial communities. In order to elucidate the mechanisms of NA degradation for future remediation strategies, it is important to better understand the ecology of NA degradation.

List of Abbreviations

AEO

Acid-extractable organics

AS

Activated sludge

BTEX

Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene

CHAA

Cyclohexane acetic acid

CHBA

Cyclohexane butyric acid

CHCA

Cyclohexane carboxylic acid

CHPA

Cyclohexane propionic acid

CHPeA

Cyclohexane pentanoic acid

DA

Decanoic acid

DHNA

Decahydro-2-naphthoic acid

GAC

Granular activated carbon

H2

Hydrogen

HA

Hexanoic acid

LC

Lethal concentration

MCHCA

Methyl-cyclohexane carboxylic acid

MFT

Mature fine tailings

NA

Naphthenic acids

OSPW

Oil sands process-affected waters (or oil sands process waters)

Oxy-NAs

Oxy-naphthenic acids

PAHs

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

SBR

Sequencing batch reactor

SRB

Sulfate-reducing bacteria

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank Dr. Lisa Gieg, University of Calgary, for her useful comments on the manuscript.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of EssexEssexUK

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