A novel, divergent alkane monooxygenase (alkB) clade involved in crude oil biodegradation

Smruthi Karthikeyan, Janet K. Hatt, Minjae Kim, Jim C. Spain, Markus Huettel, Joel E. Kostka, Konstantinos T. Konstantinidis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Alkanes are ubiquitous in marine ecosystems and originate from diverse sources ranging from natural oil seeps to anthropogenic inputs and biogenic production by cyanobacteria. Enzymes that degrade cyanobacterial alkanes (typically C15–C17 compounds) such as the alkane monooxygenase (AlkB) are widespread, but it remains unclear whether or not AlkB variants exist that specialize in degradation of crude oil from natural or accidental spills, a much more complex mixture of long-chain hydrocarbons. In the present study, large-scale analysis of available metagenomic and genomic data from the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) oil spill revealed a novel, divergent AlkB clade recovered from genomes with no cultured representatives that was dramatically increased in abundance in crude-oil impacted ecosystems. In contrast, the AlkB clades associated with biotransformation of cyanobacterial alkanes belonged to ‘canonical’ or hydrocarbonoclastic clades, and based on metatranscriptomics data and compared to the novel clade, were much more weakly expressed during crude oil biodegradation in laboratory mesocosms. The absence of this divergent AlkB clade in metagenomes of uncontaminated samples from the global ocean survey but not from the GoM as well as its frequent horizontal gene transfer indicated a priming effect of the Gulf for crude oil biodegradation likely driven by natural oil seeps.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)830-840
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology Reports
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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