Evaluation of Microbial Biofilm Communities From an Alberta Oil Sands Tailings Pond

FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2012 Jan;79(1):240-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6941.2011.01212.x.


Bitumen extraction from the oil sands of Alberta has resulted in millions of cubic meters of waste stored on-site in tailings ponds. Unique microbial ecology is expected in these ponds, which may be key to their bioremediation potential. We considered that direct culturing of microbes from a tailings sample as biofilms could lead to the recovery of microbial communities that provide good representation of the ecology of the tailings. Culturing of mixed species biofilms in vitro using the Calgary Biofilm Device (CBD) under aerobic, microaerobic, and anaerobic growth conditions was successful both with and without the addition of various growth nutrients. Denaturant gradient gel electrophoresis and 16S rRNA gene pyrotag sequencing revealed that unique mixed biofilm communities were recovered under each incubation condition, with the dominant species belonging to Pseudomonas, Thauera, Hydrogenophaga, Rhodoferax, and Acidovorax. This work used an approach that allowed organisms to grow as a biofilm directly from a sample collected of their environment, and the biofilms cultivated in vitro were representative of the endogenous environmental community. For the first time, representative environmental mixed species biofilms have been isolated and grown under laboratory conditions from an oil sands tailings pond environment and a description of their composition is provided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alberta
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Industrial Waste
  • Petroleum Pollution*
  • Ponds
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Water Microbiology*


  • Hydrocarbons
  • Industrial Waste
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • asphalt