Key players and team play: anaerobic microbial communities in hydrocarbon-contaminated aquifers

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2012 May;94(4):851-73. doi: 10.1007/s00253-012-4025-0. Epub 2012 Apr 4.


Biodegradation of anthropogenic pollutants in shallow aquifers is an important microbial ecosystem service which is mainly brought about by indigenous anaerobic microorganisms. For the management of contaminated sites, risk assessment and control of natural attenuation, the assessment of in situ biodegradation and the underlying microbial processes is essential. The development of novel molecular methods, "omics" approaches, and high-throughput techniques has revealed new insight into complex microbial communities and their functions in anoxic environmental systems. This review summarizes recent advances in the application of molecular methods to study anaerobic microbial communities in contaminated terrestrial subsurface ecosystems. We focus on current approaches to analyze composition, dynamics, and functional diversity of subsurface communities, to link identity to activity and metabolic function, and to identify the ecophysiological role of not yet cultured microbes and syntrophic consortia. We discuss recent molecular surveys of contaminated sites from an ecological viewpoint regarding degrader ecotypes, abiotic factors shaping anaerobic communities, and biotic interactions underpinning the importance of microbial cooperation for microbial ecosystem services such as contaminant degradation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anaerobiosis
  • Biodiversity
  • Biotransformation
  • Enzymes / genetics
  • Enzymes / metabolism
  • Genomics / methods
  • Hydrocarbons / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics
  • Microbial Consortia*
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*


  • Enzymes
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical