Biodegradation of poorly water-soluble liquid hydrocarbons is often limited by low availability of the substrate to microbes. Adhesion of microorganisms to an oil-water interface can enhance this availability, whereas detaching cells from the interface can reduce the rate of biodegradation. The capability of microbes to adhere to the interface is not limited to hydrocarbon degraders, nor is it the only mechanism to enable rapid uptake of hydrocarbons, but it represents a common strategy. This review of the literature indicates that microbial adhesion can benefit growth on and biodegradation of very poorly water-soluble hydrocarbons such as n-alkanes and large polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons dissolved in a non-aqueous phase. Adhesion is particularly important when the hydrocarbons are not emulsified, giving limited interfacial area between the two liquid phases. When mixed communities are involved in biodegradation, the ability of cells to adhere to the interface can enable selective growth and enhance bioremediation with time. The critical challenge in understanding the relationship between growth rate and biodegradation rate for adherent bacteria is to accurately measure and observe the population that resides at the interface of the hydrocarbon phase.
© Springer-Verlag 2011