131 Assessing the impacts of oil contamination on microbial communities in a Niger Delta soil

Muhammad R., Boothman C., Song H., Lloyd J.R., van Dongen B.E. (2024) Science of the Total Environment, 926, art. no. 171813, DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.171813

ABSTRACT: Oil spills are a global challenge, contaminating the environment with organics and metals known to elicit toxic effects. Ecosystems within Nigeria’s Niger Delta have suffered from prolonged severe spills for many decades but the level of impact on the soil microbial community structure and the potential for contaminant bioremediation remains unclear. Here, we assessed the extent/impact of an oil spill in this area 6 months after the accident on both the soil microbial community/diversity and the distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon ring-hydroxylating dioxygenase (PAH-RHDGNα) genes, responsible for encoding enzymes involved in the degradation of PAHs, across the impacted area. Analyses confirmed the presence of oil contamination, including metals such as Cr and Ni, across the whole impacted area and at depth. The contamination impacted on the microbial community composition, resulting in a lower diversity in all contaminated soils. Gamma-, Delta-, Alpha- proteobacteria and Acidobacteriia dominated 16S rRNA gene sequences across the contaminated area, while Ktedonobacteria dominated the non-contaminated soils. The PAH-RHDαGN genes were only detected in the contaminated area, highlighting a clear relationship with the oil contamination/hydrocarbon metabolism. Correlation analysis indicated significant positive relationships between the oil contaminants (organics, Cr and Ni), PAH-RHDαGN gene, and the presence of bacteria/archaea such as Anaerolinea, Spirochaetia Bacteroidia Thermoplasmata, Methanomicrobia, and Methanobacteria indicating that the oil contamination not only impacted the microbial community/diversity present, but that the microbes across the impacted area and at depth were potentially playing an important role in degrading the oil contamination present. These findings provide new insights on the level of oil contamination remaining 6 months after an oil spill, its impacts on indigenous soil microbial communities and their potential for in situ bioremediation within a Niger Delta’s ecosystem. It highlights the strength of using a cross-disciplinary approach to assess the extent of oil pollution in a single study.

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