Isolation of a Bacterial Culture That Degrades Methyl t-Butyl Ether


We have isolated a mixed bacterial culture (BC-1) which is capable of degrading the gasoline oxygenate methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE). BC-1 was developed from seed microorganisms present in a chemical plant biotreater sludge. This enrichment culture has been maintained in continuous culture treating high concentrations of MTBE (120 to 200 mg/liter) as the sole carbon source in a simple feed containing NH4+, PO43-, Mg2+, and Ca2+ nutrients. The unit had a stable MTBE removal rate when maintained with a long cell retention time (ca. 80 to 90 days); however, when operated at a ≤50-day cell waste rate, loss of MTBE-degrading activity was observed. The following three noteworthy experimental data show that MTBE is biodegraded extensively by BC-1: (i) the continuous (oxygen-sparged) culture was able to sustain a population of autotrophic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria which could nitrify influent NH4+ concentrations at high rates and obtain CO2 (sole carbon source for growth) from the metabolism of the alkyl ether, (ii) BC-1 metabolized radiolabeled either (14CH3O-MTBE) to 14CO2 (40%) and 14C-labeled cells (40%), and (iii) cell suspensions of the culture were capable of degrading (substrate depletion experiments) MTBE to t-butyl alcohol, a primary metabolite of MTBE. BC-1 is a mixed culture containing several bacterial species and is the first culture of its kind which can completely degrade an alkyl ether.

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