Department of Environmental Sciences
School of Environmental & Biological Sciences
59 Dudley Road
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8520
Anaerobic microbial metabolism of environmental contaminants, microbial ecology
The activity and role of anaerobic microorganisms for both natural carbon cycling in the environment and for biodegradation processes has long been understudied and underutilized. Microbes are the only members of the biosphere with the ability to carry out respiratory functions using electron acceptors other than oxygen, for example, nitrate, iron (III), sulfate and carbonate. Among the microorganisms in the anaerobic microbial community, the major physiological groups important in soils and sediments include denitrifiers, iron reducers, sulfidogens and methanogens whose ability to degrade contaminant chemicals such as pesticides, benzene, toluene, xylenes, alkanes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) is not well understood. Our broad goals are to investigate and understand these diverse communities with respect to their ability to metabolize anthropogenically produced and naturally occurring aromatic compounds. This includes examining complex environmental systems as well as pure cultures in the laboratory. Currently, the specific areas of research include: 1) examining the instrinsic ability of anaerobic communities from NY-NJ Harbor sediments to degrade alkanes and PAHs, and environmental factors which affect the activity; 2) determining the novel microbial chemistry of the anaerobic pathways of naphthalene, methylnapthalene and phenanthrene by active consortia, and that of the alkanes by newly isolated pure cultures; 3) investigating methods to improve or enhance natural rates of biodegradation; 4) developing biochemical markers for assessing intrinsic biodegradation; 5) isolating novel anaerobes able to degrade additional petroleum constituents and other aromatic compounds; 6) characterizing the anaerobic toluene pathway in a denitrifying strain with a molecular genetic approach.