Investigation of approaches to accelerate atrazine mineralisation in soil
Atrazine, a member of the s-triazine herbicides, appears on the EC Red List of chemicals that cause environmental concern, with residues occurring frequently in sub-soils and aquifers world-wide. Microbial metabolism is considered to be the major mechanism of complete removal of atrazine from the soil environment. Laboratory-based studies were carried out to investigate the microbial mineralisation of atrazine in soil, and to develop novel methods for potential acceleration of breakdown. In initial investigations, simple microcosm experiments were carried out to identify the importance of different fractions (water-soluble and water-insoluble) of plant residues to the dynamics, and extent of atrazine mineralisation. The amendment of soil with different plant residue fractions initially inhibited (for the water-soluble fraction) or enhanced (for the water-insoluble fraction) dynamics of atrazine mineralisation. However, by the end of the incubation, there was no overall effect on atrazine mineralisation. This suggested that increasing the soil organic matter content may render the herbicide less bioavailable to the degrader population. Investigations carried out to determine which component of the microbial biomass was more important in atrazine mineralisation showed that substantial removal of the fungal and Gram-negative bacterial population inhibited atrazine mineralisation in the soil. Experiments to selectively enrich the soil for fungal or bacterial atrazine degraders isolated a mixed bacterial culture able to accelerate atrazine mineralisation when inoculated into soil. The effect of the presence of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris on the indigenous atrazine degrading microflora was investigated. Results indicated that atrazine mineralisation could be accelerated, but this was not primarily due to increases in microbial biomass, but possibly due to physio-chemical changes brought about by the earthworm and subsequent alterations in atrazine bioavailability.