Project Details


CBET 1335824 Max M. HaggblomRutgers UniversityMethyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) is an intriguing groundwater pollutant. MTBE is a synthetic chemical with no natural sources and its biodegradation is a challenge to microorganisms. As a consequence of several decades of extensive use MTBE has become one of the most frequently detected groundwater contaminants, requiring remediation due to its persistence in the environment. The overall hypothesis of this research is that long-term MTBE contamination will enrich for anaerobic microbial communities that are capable of utilizing this compound as a source of carbon and energy. Previous research has demonstrated that MTBE degradation can occur under different anoxic conditions, and may be an important process in anoxic environments. However, little is still known about the bacterial species that can utilize MTBE and the biodegradation mechanisms are poorly understood. The research project seeks to elucidate the activity of bacteria that mediate degradation of MTBE in anoxic subsurface environments. Novel microorganisms and their genes responsible for transformation/degradation of MTBE in contaminated aquifers and sediments will be identified in order to develop tools for monitoring natural attenuation and enhanced biodegradation of MTBE in the environment. Although the use of MTBE as a fuel oxygenate has now been widely banned, problems with contaminated aquifers and drinking water sources persist. MTBE has a very strong turpentine-like taste and smell and can only be tolerated in drinking water at very low levels. The human-health effects of long-term inhalation or oral exposures to MTBE are unknown. There has been an increasing need in the development of effective technologies to remediate MTBE-contaminated sites. Monitoring tools are critical to gaining an understanding of how microbial processes, and thus remediation, are affected by different amendments or other engineering approaches. This project will yield novel approaches to assess and stimulate bioremediation and to document in situ MTBE biodegradation in natural attenuation approaches. A variety of natural processes control plume migration and reduce MTBE concentration. Among these processes, biodegradation is the most effective in reducing the mass of contaminant in the environment in a sustainable way. A key challenge is to accurately assess the efficiency of the remediation techniques in situ. The fundamental microbiological and environmental engineering knowledge gained from the research will fill major knowledge gaps in our understanding of fate and transformation of MTBE in the environment. Implementation of site assessment via emerging environmental molecular diagnostics for MTBE could lead to cost-savings through more sustainable remediation practices, aid choice of site approaches that lead to shortened timelines, and provide information to allow a more rational approach for site remediation.
Effective start/end date10/1/139/30/16


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))


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