Substrate-independent expression of key functional genes in Cycloclasticus pugetii strain PS-1 limits their use as markers for PAH biodegradation

Anjela L. Vogel, Katharine J. Thompson, Daniel Straub, Constantin B. App, Tony Gutierrez, Frank E. Löffler, Sara Kleindienst

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Microbial degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons is a crucial process for the clean-up of oil-contaminated environments. Cycloclasticus spp. are well-known polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) degraders that possess PAH-degradation marker genes including rhd3α, rhd2α, and pahE. However, it remains unknown if the expression of these genes can serve as an indicator for active PAH degradation. Here, we determined transcript-to-gene (TtG) ratios with (reverse transcription) qPCR in cultures of Cycloclasticus pugetii strain PS-1 grown with naphthalene, phenanthrene, a mixture of these PAHs, or alternate substrates (i.e., no PAHs). Mean TtG ratios of 1.99 × 10−2, 1.80 × 10−3, and 3.20 × 10−3 for rhd3α, rhd2α, and pahE, respectively, were measured in the presence or absence of PAHs. The TtG values suggested that marker-gene expression is independent of PAH degradation. Measurement of TtG ratios in Arctic seawater microcosms amended with water-accommodated crude oil fractions, and incubated under in situ temperature conditions (i.e., 1.5°C), only detected Cycloclasticus spp. rhd2α genes and transcripts (mean TtG ratio of 4.15 × 10−1). The other marker genes—rhd3α and pahE—were not detected, suggesting that not all Cycloclasticus spp. carry these genes and a broader yet-to-be-identified repertoire of PAH-degradation genes exists. The results indicate that the expression of PAH marker genes may not correlate with PAH-degradation activity, and transcription data should be interpreted cautiously.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1185619
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2023


  • PAH-degrading bacteria
  • aromatic ring-hydroxylating dioxygenases
  • biodegradation
  • marine environment
  • process-specific marker genes
  • transcript-to-gene ratio


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