Hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria enriched by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill identified by cultivation and DNA-SIP

Tony Gutierrez, David R. Singleton, David T. Berry, Tingting Yang, Michael D. Aitken, Andreas Teske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

214 Citations (Scopus)


The massive influx of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster triggered dramatic microbial community shifts in surface oil slick and deep plume waters. Previous work had shown several taxa, notably DWH Oceanospirillales, Cycloclasticus and Colwellia, were found to be enriched in these waters based on their dominance in conventional clone and pyrosequencing libraries and were thought to have had a significant role in the degradation of the oil. However, this type of community analysis data failed to provide direct evidence on the functional properties, such as hydrocarbon degradation of organisms. Using DNA-based stable-isotope probing with uniformly 13C-labelled hydrocarbons, we identified several aliphatic (Alcanivorax, Marinobacter)- and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (Alteromonas, Cycloclasticus, Colwellia)-degrading bacteria. We also isolated several strains (Alcanivorax, Alteromonas, Cycloclasticus, Halomonas, Marinobacter and Pseudoalteromonas) with demonstrable hydrocarbon-degrading qualities from surface slick and plume water samples collected during the active phase of the spill. Some of these organisms accounted for the majority of sequence reads representing their respective taxa in a pyrosequencing data set constructed from the same and additional water column samples. Hitherto, Alcanivorax was not identified in any of the previous water column studies analysing the microbial response to the spill and we discuss its failure to respond to the oil. Collectively, our data provide unequivocal evidence on the hydrocarbon-degrading qualities for some of the dominant taxa enriched in surface and plume waters during the DWH oil spill, and a more complete understanding of their role in the fate of the oil.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2091-2104
Number of pages14
JournalISME Journal
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • biodegradation
  • marine bacteria
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • stable-isotope probing


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