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Halophenols such as 2,4-dibromophenol (DBP) occur naturally in some marine sediments, as a consequence of various animal and algal activities. In an earlier study, DBP was observed in the burrow microenvironment of the hemichordate Saccoglossus kowalewskii. At the concentrations found in the burrow lining, aerobic respiration appeared to be inhibited significantly relative to anaerobic catabolism. This effect, as well as factors contributing to the degradation of DBP, has been documented further here. Results from the addition of radiolabeled DBP to oxic and anoxic sediment slurries and growth experiments with aerobic and anaerobic enrichments suggested that aerobes did not significantly metabolize DBP and that concentrations likely to be encountered on the inner surfaces of the burrow wall were inhibitory. In contrast, only minimal inhibition of growth occurred for anaerobes exposed to 1 mM DBP; in addition, DBP was substantially degraded in both enrichments and sediments under anaerobic conditions. Dehalogenation with the consequent production of phenol appeared to initiate anaerobic degradation. Sulfate-reducing bacteria did not dehalogenate DBP but appeared to degrade phenol. Decreased bacterial numbers and marked differences in the concentration and chemical speciation of iron in sediments from S. kowalewskii burrows may be attributed to toxic effects of DBP on aerobic bacteria.

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Applied and environmental microbiology

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