Diversity of Benzyl- and Alkylsuccinate Synthase Genes in Hydrocarbon-Impacted Environments and Enrichment Cultures

Hydrocarbon-degrading microorganisms play an important role in the natural attenuation of spilled petroleum in a variety of anoxic environments. The role of benzylsuccinate synthase (BSS) in aromatic hydrocarbon degradation and its use as a biomarker for field investigations are well documented. The recent discovery of alkylsuccinate synthase (ASS) allows the opportunity to test whether its encoding gene, assA, can serve as a comparable biomarker of anaerobic alkane degradation. Degenerate assA- and bssA-targeted PCR primers were designed in order to survey the diversity of genes associated with aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbon biodegradation in petroleum-impacted environments and enrichment cultures. DNA was extracted from an anaerobic alkane-degrading isolate (Desulfoglaeba alkenexedens ALDC), hydrocarbon-contaminated river and aquifer sediments, a paraffin-degrading enrichment, and a propane-utilizing mixed culture. Partial assA and bssA genes were PCR amplified, cloned, and sequenced, yielding several novel clades of assA genes. These data expand the range of alkane-degrading conditions for which relevant gene sequences are available and indicate that considerable diversity of assA genes can be found in hydrocarbon-impacted environments. The detection of genes associated with anaerobic alkane degradation in conjunction with the in situ detection of alkylsuccinate metabolites was also demonstrated. Comparable molecular signals of assA/bssA were not found when environmental metagenome databases of uncontaminated sites were searched. These data confirm that the assA gene is a useful biomarker for anaerobic alkane metabolism.