Case Study

Microbial Response to Crude Oil in Ocean Sediments Using ‘Omic Technologies'

Connect with an expert opens in a new page


Microbes are vital to ecosystems; they are critical to essential processes such as oxygen cycling and nitrogen fixation. Through carbon utilization and bioremediation, microbes are instrumental to removal of pollutants from the environment. Microbes from complex environmental samples are difficult, if not impossible, to culture and identify in the laboratory, efforts which consume valuable time and resources while often yielding ambiguous results.

The Solution

Battelle's combined metagenomic and metaproteomic analytical approaches demonstrated how microorganisms respond to changes in the environment such as exposure to crude oil. The microbial response to crude oil was investigated using genetic sequence profiling (metagenomics) and functional protein profiling (metaproteomic) to observe perturbations in microbial biodiversity and functional protein content. The results showed an increase in the abundance of microbial hydrocarbon-degrading species upon exposure to crude oil, and increased levels of hydrocarbon-degrading enzymes and other proteins. Battelle’s analytical methods allow for high resolution detection of ecologically important and diverse microbial species, and are powerful tools for application to monitoring environmental changes.
Let us help you solve your biggest environmental challenges. Contact us today to learn more.
Connect with an expert opens in a new page

The Outcome

  • Systems biology approach incorporating multidisciplinary assays
  • Extensive evaluation of microbial communities with depth previously unattainable
  • Rapid screening of complex environmental samples
  • Unbiased detection relative to culturing in laboratory
  • Important gene and biochemical pathway identification
  • Key protein identification/quantification
  • Discovery tool, capable of detecting the unexpected

Integrating next-generation sequencing (NGS) data with functional protein profiling approaches allows for comprehensive identification of diverse and difficult to culture microbes in environmental samples. The types and frequencies of detection of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria identified by Battelle scientists using this approach are tabulated below.

Photo: Hydrocarbon Frequency Table

Table 1. Frequency of detection of bacterial species in different environmental samples with and without exposure to crude oil. Microbial metagenomics analyses were conducted on sediment samples from two geographically distinct nearshore sites. The samples were then incubated with 10% crude oil and the frequencies of bacterial sequence detection compared. A ten-fold increase in detection of genomic sequences from bacterial species with known hydrocarbon-degrading capabilities was observed in the samples from both locations when the samples were incubated with 10% crude oil [6.9% (no-oil control) to 68% (with oil) in the Site 1 sediment, and 4.3% (no-oil control) to 48% (with oil) in the Site 2 sample]. Interestingly, while the same hydrocarbon degrading species were initially present in both sediment samples, incubation with 10% crude oil led to increased abundance of Methylophaga thiooxidansPseudoalteromonas spp., and Marinobacter hydrocarbonoclasticus which were dominant in Sample 2, while Pseudomonas spp. became most abundant in Sample 2. The test illustrates how indigenous microbial communities respond to crude oil exposure in sediments from different geographic locations.

Photo: 3D Model of a Protein

Figure 1. A 3D image of the protein methylene-tetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase, an oxioreductase, which was only identified from oi-treatment sediments. This enzyme is involved in the degradation of organic materials.
Battelle provides expertise and innovation at every phase of environmental restoration.
Explore Investigation and Remediation opens in a new page

Case Studies

Technology Commercialization and Licensing

With over 90 years of research and development experience, Battelle supports all areas of industry with intellectual property licensing focused on bringing our cross-disciplinary expertise to meet our clients' most difficult challenges.

Explore our ip

Photo: Abstract photo of a lightbulb