Bacterial diversity of a cyanobacterial mat degrading petroleum compounds at elevated salinities and temperatures

Raeid M.M. Abed*, Assad Al-Thukair, Dirk De Beer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


Cyanobacterial mats of the Arabian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia experience extreme conditions of temperature and salinity. Because they are exposed to continuous oil pollution, they form ideal models for biodegradation under extreme conditions. We investigated the bacterial diversity of these mats using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and 16S rRNA cloning, and tested their potential to degrade petroleum compounds at various salinities (fresh water to 16%) and temperatures (5 to 50°C). Cloning revealed that c. 15% of the obtained sequences were related to unknown, possibly novel bacteria. Bacteria belonging to Beta-, Gamma- and Deltaproteobacteria, Cytophaga-Flavobacterium- Bacteroides group and Spirochetes, were detected. The biodegradation of petroleum compounds at different salinities by mat microorganisms showed that pristine and n-octadecane were optimally degraded at salinities between 5 and 12% (weight per volume NaCl) whereas the optimum degradation of phenanthrene and dibenzothiophene was at 3.5% salinity. The latter compounds were also degradable at 8% salinity. The same compounds were degraded at temperatures between 15 and 40°C but not at 5 and 50°C. The optimum temperature of degradation was 28-40°C for both aliphatics and aromatics. We conclude that the studied microbial mats from Saudi Arabia are rich in novel halotolerant and thermotolerant microorganisms with the potential to degrade petroleum compounds at elevated salinities and temperatures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-301
Number of pages12
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Biodegradation
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Cyanobacterial mats
  • Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis
  • PCR
  • Petroleum compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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