Many aromatic hydrocarbons assigned to the so-called high production volume chemicals (HPVCs) are frequently encountered constituents of wastewaters that end up in the sea. Although the pollutant-degrading capabilities of freshwater bacteria are well known, the catabolism of pollutants by marine bacteria has received limited attention. A marine bacterium with the ability to aerobically utilize phenol – an HPVC and common aromatic pollutant – as its sole source of carbon and energy, was isolated from water samples from Durban Harbour, South Africa. The isolate, designated strain KM2, was assigned to the genus Marinobacter based on a variety of phenotypic properties and by analysis of the 16S rRNA gene sequence. The isolate displays an absolute growth requirement for NaCl which cannot be offset by replacement of NaCl with other salts. In addition to 4-methylphenol and 3,4-dimethylphenol, it utilizes a range of aliphatic hydrocarbons such as butan-1-ol and hexadecane under aerobic conditions. The transient formation of an intermediate exhibiting the UV–Vis spectral characteristics for 2-hydroxymuconic semialdehyde in cultures growing on phenol suggests that the isolate catabolizes this compound via the meta cleavage pathway. These results indicate that members of the genus Marinobacter might participate in the elimination of aromatic pollutants in South African marine environments.
Keywords: biodegradation, high production volume chemicals, Marinobacter spp., meta cleavage, phenol