Enhanced biodegradation of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) in contaminated soils via inoculation with Sphingobium indicum B90A
Abstract Soil pollution with hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) has caused serious environmental problems. Here we describe the targeted degradation of all HCH isomers by applying the aerobic bacterium Sphingobium indicum B90A. In particular, we examined possibilities for large-scale cultivation of strain B90A, tested immobilization, storage and inoculation procedures, and determined the survival and HCH-degradation activity of inoculated cells in soil. Optimal growth of strain B90A was achieved in glucose-containing mineral medium and up to 65% culturability could be maintained after 60 days storage at 30°C by mixing cells with sterile dry corncob powder. B90A biomass produced in water supplemented with sugarcane molasses and immobilized on corncob powder retained 15–20% culturability after 30 days storage at 30°C, whereas full culturability was maintained when cells were stored frozen at −20°C. On the contrary, cells stored on corncob degraded γ-HCH faster than those that had been stored frozen, with between 15 and 85% of γ-HCH disappearance in microcosms within 20 h at 30°C. Soil microcosm tests at 25°C confirmed complete mineralization of [14C]-γ-HCH by corncob-immobilized strain B90A. Experiments conducted in small pits and at an HCH-contaminated agricultural site resulted in between 85 and 95% HCH degradation by strain B90A applied via corncob, depending on the type of HCH isomer and even at residual HCH concentrations. Up to 20% of the inoculated B90A cells survived under field conditions after 8 days and could be traced among other soil microorganisms by a combination of natural antibiotic resistance properties, unique pigmentation and PCR amplification of the linA genes. Neither the addition of corncob nor of corncob immobilized B90A did measurably change the microbial community structure as determined by T-RFLP analysis. Overall, these results indicate that on-site aerobic bioremediation of HCH exploiting the biodegradation activity of S. indicum B90A cells stored on corncob powder is a promising technology.