Bacterial degradation of linseed and sunflower oils in salt marsh sediments
This work investigated the consequences of vegetable oils spills in salt marsh sediments. The role of autochthonous bacteria in the oils degradation and degradative pathways were also studied 'in situ' and 'in vitro'. Simulated spills of sunflower and linseed oils revealed that both oils penetrated the sediments at a rate of 10-7 CM2 s-1. However, whereas 60% of the linseed oil had disappeared from the sediments after 2 months most of the sunflower oil remained after 6 months. Differences were noted in the adsorption of the oils to sediment particles and the depth at which they accumulate and these factors most likely influenced the route of the oil degradation and the sediments properties such as permeability. The contamination of the sediments with vegetable oils lead to a noticeable reduction in the abundance of plant roots and infauna. The abundance of aerobic, anaerobic and sulphate reducing bacteria in the sediments was increased by the addition of both oils, with linseed oil supporting greater bacterial density than sunflower oil. During the course of the experiment the relative abundance of oil degrading bacteria also increased. As a consequence of the increased bacterial activity, the sediments pH and Eh decreased and anoxic conditions were established, earlier in the case of linseed than that of sunflower oils. The degradation of the oils appeared to be a sequential process, initiated by the aerobic and/or anaerobic bacteria and continued by the sulphate reducing bacteria which themselves where unable to utilise the raw oils. The original composition of both oils underwent alterations mostly associated with their main fatty acid: the concentration of 18: 3(o3 and 18: 2o)6 in linseed and sunflower oil, respectively, decreased whereas that of the remaining fatty acids increased. As a result of the bacterial degradation of the vegetable oils 'new' fatty acids were detected and their identification was attempted using GC-MS analysis of their picolinyl and methyl esters. Various degradative pathways of linseed and sunflower oils involving the formation of the 'new' fatty acids are suggested with isomerisation, hydrogenation and P-oxidation as the primary routes for the degradation.