Methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and its degradation by-product, tert-butyl alcohol (TBA), are widespread contaminants detected frequently in groundwater in California. Since MTBE was used as a fuel oxygenate for almost two decades, leaking underground fuel storage tanks are an important source of contamination. Gasoline components such as BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes) are often present in mixtures with MTBE and TBA. Investigations of interactions between BTEX and MTBE degradation have not yielded consistent trends, and the molecular mechanisms of BTEX compounds’ impact on MTBE degradation are not well understood. We investigated trends in transcription of biodegradation genes in the MTBEdegrading bacterium, Methylibium petroleiphilum PM1 upon exposure to MTBE, TBA, ethylbenzene and benzene as individual compounds or in mixtures. We designed real-time quantitative PCR assays to target functional genes of strain PM1 and provide evidence for induction of genes mdpA (MTBE monooxygenase), mdpJ (TBA hydroxylase) and bmoA (benzene monooxygenase) in response to MTBE, TBA and benzene, respectively. Delayed induction of mdpA and mdpJ transcription occurred with mixtures of benzene and MTBE or TBA, respectively. bmoA transcription was similar in the presence of MTBE or TBA with benzene as in their absence. Our results also indicate that ethylbenzene, previously proposed as an inhibitor of MTBE degradation in some bacteria, inhibits transcription of mdpA, mdpJ and bmoA genes in strain PM1.
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