Aim: To study the response of the bacterial community to bioremediation of a soil with an aged contamination of crude oil.
Methods and results: The bacterial community in laboratory soil columns during a 72-day biostimulation treatment was followed by analysing the number of total cultivable hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria, soil respiratory activity and the 16S-23S rDNA internal transcribed spacer homoduplex heteroduplex polymorphisms (ITS-HHP) of total soil bacterial DNA. ITS-HHP permits an estimate of both length and sequence polymorphism in a 16S-23S rDNA spacer population, using to advantage the homoduplex and heteroduplex fragments that are generated during PCR. The treatment, made by air sparging and biostimulation with a mineral nutrient and surfactant solution, resulted in a 39.5% decrease of the total hydrocarbon content. Within 4 days of treatment onset the bacterial community underwent a first phase of activation that led to a substantial increase in the observable diversity. Subsequently, after a 12-day period of stability, another activation phase was observed with further shifts of the community structure and an increase in the abundance and diversity of catechol-2,3-dioxygenase (C23O) genes.
Conclusions: The overall data suggest an important contribution of uncultivable bacteria to the soil bioremediation, since, during the second activation phase, the increases of the respiratory activity, bacterial diversity and C23O gene abundance and diversity were not accompanied by a corresponding increase of the cultivable bacteria number.
Significance and impact of the study: This study shows that successive phases of activation of bacterial populations occur during a bioremediation treatment of oil-polluted soil.