Benzylsuccinate synthase (bssA) genes associated with toluene degradation were profiled across a groundwater contaminant plume under nitrate-reducing conditions and were detected in significant numbers throughout the plume. However, differences between groundwater and core sediment samples suggested that microbial transport, rather than local activity, was the underlying cause of the high copy numbers within the downgradient plume. Both gene transcript and reactant concentrations were consistent with this hypothesis. Expression of bssA genes from denitrifying toluene degraders was induced by toluene but only in the presence of nitrate, and transcript abundance dropped rapidly following the removal of either toluene or nitrate. The drop in bssA transcripts following the removal of toluene could be described by an exponential decay function with a half-life on the order of 1 h. Interestingly, bssA transcripts never disappeared completely but were always detected at some level if either inducer was present. Therefore, the detection of transcripts alone may not be sufficient evidence for contaminant degradation. To avoid mistakenly associating basal-level gene expression with actively degrading microbial populations, an integrated approach using the ratio of functional gene transcripts to gene copies is recommended. This approach minimizes the impact of microbial transport on activity assessment and allows reliable assessments of microbial activity to be obtained from water samples.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
- Food Science