Elisabeth Grohmann, Itziar Alkorta, Carlos Garbisu, Olatz Garaiyurrebaso, Lur Epelde
Bioaugmentation, or the inoculation of microorganisms (e.g., bacteria harboring the required catabolic genes) into soil to enhance the rate of contaminant degradation, has great potential for the bioremediation of soils contaminated with organic compounds. Regrettably, cell bioaugmentation frequently turns into an unsuccessful initiative, owing to the rapid decrease of bacterial viability and abundance after inoculation, as well as the limited dispersal of the inoculated bacteria in the soil matrix. Genes that encode the degradation of organic compounds are often located on plasmids and, consequently, they can be spread by horizontal gene transfer into well-established, ecologically competitive, indigenous bacterial populations. Plasmid-mediated bioaugmentation aims to stimulate the spread of contaminant degradation genes among indigenous soil bacteria by the introduction of plasmids, located in donor cells, harboring such genes. But the acquisition of plasmids by recipient cells can affect the host's fitness, a crucial aspect for the success of plasmid-mediated bioaugmentation. Besides, environmental factors (e.g., soil moisture, temperature, organic matter content) can play important roles for the transfer efficiency of catabolic plasmids, the expression of horizontally acquired genes and, finally, the contaminant degradation activity. For plasmid-mediated bioaugmentation to be reproducible, much more research is needed for a better selection of donor bacterial strains and accompanying plasmids, together with an in-depth understanding of indigenous soil bacterial populations and the environmental conditions that affect plasmid acquisition and the expression and functioning of the catabolic genes of interest.