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Organohalide Respiration with Chlorinated Ethenes under Low pH Conditions

Yang, Yi, Cápiro, Natalie L., Marcet, Tyler F., Yan, Jun, Pennell, Kurt D., Löffler, Frank E.
Environmental science & technology 2017 v.51 no.15 pp. 8579-8588
Dehalococcoides, Sulfurospirillum, acidification, aquifers, bioremediation, dechlorination, ethylene, fermentation, genes, groundwater, microbial communities, nucleotide sequences, pH, ribosomal RNA, sequence homology, soil, solvents, tetrachloroethylene
Bioremediation at chlorinated solvent sites often leads to groundwater acidification due to electron donor fermentation and enhanced dechlorination activity. The microbial reductive dechlorination process is robust at circumneutral pH, but activity declines at groundwater pH values below 6.0. Consistent with this observation, the activity of tetrachloroethene (PCE) dechlorinating cultures declined at pH 6.0 and was not sustained in pH 5.5 medium, with one notable exception. Sulfurospirillum multivorans dechlorinated PCE to cis-1,2-dichloroethene (cDCE) in pH 5.5 medium and maintained this activity upon repeated transfers. Microcosms established with soil and aquifer materials from five distinct locations dechlorinated PCE-to-ethene at pH 5.5 and pH 7.2. Dechlorination to ethene was maintained following repeated transfers at pH 7.2, but no ethene was produced at pH 5.5, and only the transfer cultures derived from the Axton Cross Superfund (ACS) microcosms sustained PCE dechlorination to cDCE as a final product. 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing of pH 7.2 and pH 5.5 ACS enrichments revealed distinct microbial communities, with the dominant dechlorinator being Dehalococcoides in pH 7.2 and Sulfurospirillum in pH 5.5 cultures. PCE-to-trichloroethene- (TCE-) and PCE-to-cDCE-dechlorinating isolates obtained from the ACS pH 5.5 enrichment shared 98.6%, and 98.5% 16S rRNA gene sequence similarities to Sulfurospirillum multivorans. These findings imply that sustained Dehalococcoides activity cannot be expected in low pH (i.e., ≤ 5.5) groundwater, and organohalide-respiring Sulfurospirillum spp. are key contributors to in situ PCE reductive dechlorination under low pH conditions.