Humic substances (HS), an important fraction of soil organic carbon, are distributed widely throughout cold environments. A total of cold-adapted 122 bacterial strains were isolated from 66 Alaska grassland soil samples based on their ability to grow on humic acids (HA), a main fraction of HS, as a carbon and energy source. These isolates were identified based on 16S rRNA gene sequencing, with class Bacilli (79.5%) and γ-Proteobacteria (17.1%) comprising the largest groups. Among them, 45 strains, mainly Paenibacillus (27 strains) and Pseudomonas (15 strains), were selected for further screening. Two strains (Pseudomonas sp. PAMC 26793 and Paenibacillus sp. PAMC 26794) most efficiently degraded HA, but showed significant differences in their ability to grow on various monocyclic aromatics, which are putative degradative metabolites of HS. Fourier transform infrared spectra also showed substantial but different changes in HA chemical structure after incubation with each strain. Gel permeation chromatography demonstrated that depolymerization and polymerization of HA occurred during HS degradation by these newly isolated microbes.
Keywords: Biodegradation; Humic substances; Low temperature; Soil bacteria.
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