Benzene degradation in a denitrifying biofilm reactor: activity and microbial community composition

Marcelle J. van der Waals*, Siavash Atashgahi, Ulisses Nunes da Rocha, Bas M. van der Zaan, Hauke Smidt, Jan Gerritse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Benzene is an aromatic compound and harmful for the environment. Biodegradation of benzene can reduce the toxicological risk after accidental or controlled release of this chemical in the environment. In this study, we further characterized an anaerobic continuous biofilm culture grown for more than 14 years on benzene with nitrate as electron acceptor. We determined steady state degradation rates, microbial community composition dynamics in the biofilm, and the initial anaerobic benzene degradation reactions. Benzene was degraded at a rate of 0.15 μmol/mg protein/day and a first-order rate constant of 3.04/day which was fourfold higher than rates reported previously. Bacteria belonging to the Peptococcaceae were found to play an important role in this anaerobic benzene-degrading biofilm culture, but also members of the Anaerolineaceae were predicted to be involved in benzene degradation or benzene metabolite degradation based on Illumina MiSeq analysis of 16S ribosomal RNA genes. Biomass retention in the reactor using a filtration finger resulted in reduction of benzene degradation capacity. Detection of the benzene carboxylase encoding gene, abcA, and benzoic acid in the culture vessel indicated that benzene degradation proceeds through an initial carboxylation step.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5175-5188
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Anaerobic benzene degradation
  • Biofilm reactor
  • Carboxylation
  • Denitrification
  • Peptococcaceae
  • Retentostat


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