Activated carbon stimulates microbial diversity and PAH biodegradation under anaerobic conditions in oil-polluted sediments

Stefano Bonaglia*, Elias Broman, Björn Brindefalk, Erika Hedlund, Tomas Hjorth, Carl Rolff, Francisco J.A. Nascimento, Klas Udekwu, Jonas S. Gunnarsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Biodegradation by microorganisms is a useful tool that helps alleviating hydrocarbon pollution in nature. Microbes are more efficient in degradation under aerobic than anaerobic conditions, but the majority of sediment by volume is generally anoxic. Incubation experiments were conducted to study the biodegradation potential of naphthalene—a common polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)—and the diversity of microbial communities in presence/absence of activated carbon (AC) under aerobic/anaerobic conditions. Radio-respirometry experiments with endogenous microorganisms indicated that degradation of naphthalene was strongly stimulated (96%) by the AC addition under anaerobic conditions. In aerobic conditions, however, AC had no effects on naphthalene biodegradation. Bioaugmentation tests with cultured microbial populations grown on naphthalene showed that AC further stimulated (92%) naphthalene degradation in anoxia. Analysis of the 16S rRNA gene sequences implied that sediment amendment with AC increased microbial community diversity and changed community structure. Moreover, the relative abundance of Geobacter, Thiobacillus, Sulfuricurvum, and methanogenic archaea increased sharply after amendment with AC under anaerobic conditions. These results may be explained by the fact that AC particles promoted direct interspecies electron transfer (DIET) between microorganisms involved in PAH degradation pathways. We suggest that important ecosystem functions mediated by microbes—such as hydrocarbon degradation—can be induced and that AC enrichment strategies can be exploited for facilitating bioremediation of anoxic oil-contaminated sediments and soils.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126023
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020



  • 16S rRNA sequencing
  • Bioremediation
  • Hydrocarbon pollution
  • Microbial communities
  • Naphthalene
  • Powdered activated carbon (PAC)

Cite this

Bonaglia, S., Broman, E., Brindefalk, B., Hedlund, E., Hjorth, T., Rolff, C., Nascimento, F. J. A., Udekwu, K., & Gunnarsson, J. S. (2020). Activated carbon stimulates microbial diversity and PAH biodegradation under anaerobic conditions in oil-polluted sediments. Chemosphere, 248, [126023].