It Takes a Community to Clean up an Environment

Microbial communities solve environmental contamination.

Image courtesy of Frank Löffler, University of Tennessee/Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Scanning electron micrograph of dechlorinating bacterium Dehalococcoides strain BAV1.

The Science

A team of researchers has conducted a metagenomic analysis of a stable dechlorinating community derived from sediment collected at the Alameda Naval Air Station (ANAS) in California.

The Impact

Understanding the composition and functioning of communities such as this one will contribute to similar efforts towards remediation of a variety of other cleanup challenges that DOE faces, as well as other processes (plant nutrition, carbon processing) that microbial communities carry out.


Microbes are very effective at carrying out a wide range of chemical reactions, even ones that involve substances toxic to higher life forms. Many groundwater sites contaminated with compounds such as trichloroethene (TCE), a pervasive groundwater pollutant often used by industry as cleansers or degreasers, are decontaminated by microbes. Dehalococcoides are the only family of bacteria known to break down TCE to ethene, a harmless chemical compound often used to help ripen fruits. The team identified the other members of this microbial community, since microbes such as Dehalococcoides are known to dechlorinate chemicals more effectively in the presence of other microorganisms. This study showed that all of the genes that code for enzymes involved in dechlorination were associated with Dehalococcoides, emphasizing its importance as the dominant dechlorinating microbe in the ANAS microbial community. The research was based on sequencing carried out by the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI).


Dr. Lisa Alvarez-Cohen
University of California – Berkeley


Basic Research: DOE Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research


Brisson, et al., 2012, “Metagenomic analysis of a stable trichloroethene-degrading microbial community”, The ISME Journal (2012), 1–13.  [DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2012.15]

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