Exploring novel alkane-degradation pathways in uncultured bacteria from the North Atlantic Ocean

Mirna Vazquez Rosas Landa, Valerie De Anda, Robin R. Rohwer, Angelina Angelova, Georgia Waldram, Tony Gutierrez*, Brett J. Baker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Microbes play a significant role in the degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons in the oceans, yet little is known about the native bacteria that metabolize hydrocarbons before an oil spill. The Faroe-Shetland Channel (FSC) is a deepwater subarctic region of the North Atlantic with prominent oil production and a diverse microbial community associated with the degradation of petroleum. Here, we combine DNA-based stable-isotope probing (DNA-SIP) with metagenomics to elucidate the metabolic underpinnings of native alkane-degrading bacteria from the FSC. From two 13C n-hexadecane SIP experiments using seawater from 5 and 700 m depths in the FSC, we obtained 42 metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) belonging to 19 genera, including two previously overlooked hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria, Lentibacter (Alphaproteobacteria) and Dokdonia (Bacteroidetes). Diversity surveys indicated Lentibacter were dominant members of the FSC, constituting up to 17% of these communities. Many of the SIP-enriched MAGs (20/42) encoded a complete alkane oxidation pathway, including alkane monooxygenase (AlkB), rubredoxin reductase (AlkT), and rubredoxin-2 (AlkG). Fourteen Aphaproteobacteria MAGs lacked AlkG for electron transfer. Instead, they encoded novel disulfide isomerases with iron-binding cysteine motifs conserved across rubredoxins. Dokdonia lacked AlkT and AlkG, however, their central alkane-degradation catabolic pathways were complete. We describe previously unrecognized bacteria capable of hydrocarbon degradation, including the dominant genera Lentibacter , which may continuously purge hydrocarbons released from oil exploration activities in the FSC. This advances the understanding of the diversity and physiologies of alkane degradation in the North Atlantic and provides evidence of new mechanisms used to metabolize alkanes. IMPORTANCE Petroleum pollution in the ocean has increased because of rapid population growth and modernization, requiring urgent remediation. Our understanding of the metabolic response of native microbial communities to oil spills is not well understood. Here, we explored the baseline hydrocarbon-degrading communities of a subarctic Atlantic region to uncover the metabolic potential of the bacteria that inhabit the surface and subsurface water. We conducted enrichments with a 13 C-labeled hydrocarbon to capture the fraction of the community actively using the hydrocarbon. We then combined this approach with metagenomics to identify the metabolic potential of this hydrocarbon-degrading community. This revealed previously undescribed uncultured bacteria with unique metabolic mechanisms involved in aerobic hydrocarbon degradation, indicating that temperature may be pivotal in structuring hydrocarbon-degrading baseline communities. Our findings highlight gaps in our understanding of the metabolic complexity of hydrocarbon degradation by native marine microbial communities.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00619-23
Issue number5
Early online date13 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2023


  • assembled genomes
  • hydrocarbon degradation
  • metagenomics
  • oil spills
  • stable-isotope probing (SIP)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Microbiology
  • Modelling and Simulation


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