A laboratory-scale river microcosm was used to investigate the effect of the anionic surfactant sodium dodecyl sulphate (SDS) on the attachment of five strains to natural river-sediment surfaces. Three of the strains were chosen for their known ability to express alkylsulphatase enzymes capable of hydrolysing SDS, and the other two for their lack of such enzymes. One strain from each category was isolated from the indigenous bacterial population present in the river sediment used; other isolates were from soil or sewage. The alkylsulphatase phenotypes were confirmed by gel zymography of cell extracts. Addition of SDS to mixed suspensions of river sediment with any one of the biodegradation-competent strains stimulated the attachment of bacteria to the sediment particles. In contrast, the attachment of biodegradation-incompetent strains was weak and, moreover, was unaffected by SDS. The SDS-stimulated attachment for competent organisms coincided with rapid biodegradation of the surfactant. The primary intermediate of SDS biodegradation, dodecan-1-ol, accumulated transiently, and the numbers of attached bacteria correlated closely with the amount of dodecan-1-ol present. Direct addition of dodecan-1-ol also stimulated attachment but the effect was more immediate compared with SDS, when there was a lag period of approximately 2 h. To account for these observations, a model is proposed in which SDS stimulates the attachment of biodegradation-competent bacteria through its conversion to dodecan-1-ol, and it is hypothesized that the observed reversibility of the attachment is due to the subsequent removal of dodecan-1-ol by further bacterial metabolism.


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