2014 Volume 29 Issue 3 Pages 269-276
The aim of this study was to design a molecular biological tool, using information provided by amplicon pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes, that could be suitable for environmental assessment and bioremediation in marine ecosystems. We selected 63 bacterial genera that were previously linked to hydrocarbon biodegradation, representing a minimum sample of the bacterial guild associated with this process. We defined an ecological indicator (ecological index of hydrocarbon exposure, EIHE) using the relative abundance values of these genera obtained by pyrotag analysis. This index reflects the proportion of the bacterial community that is potentially capable of biodegrading hydrocarbons. When the bacterial community structures of intertidal sediments from two sites with different pollution histories were analyzed, 16 of the selected genera (25%) were significantly overrepresented with respect to the pristine site, in at least one of the samples from the polluted site. Although the relative abundances of individual genera associated with hydrocarbon biodegradation were generally low in samples from the polluted site, EIHE values were 4 times higher than those in the pristine sample, with at least 5% of the bacterial community in the sediments being represented by the selected genera. EIHE values were also calculated in other oil-exposed marine sediments as well as in seawater using public datasets from experimental systems and field studies. In all cases, the EIHE was significantly higher in oiled than in unpolluted samples, suggesting that this tool could be used as an estimator of the hydrocarbon-degrading potential of microbial communities.