An investigation was carried out on the bioavailability of kaolinite and the role it plays in remediating oil-polluted seawater, since kaolinite is known to enable hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria to grow well. Experimental results revealed that significant amounts of Al and Si dissolved from kaolinite were not observed ((P > 0.05) in comparison with a control sample which contained no kaolinite) in the aqueous phase during the ~24 day experimental period. Transmission electron microscope observations and energy-dispersive spectroscope data revealed that some altered kaolinite particles appeared, connected to intact kaolinite and bacterial cells. Bacterial cells were associated and encrusted with intact and/or altered kaolinite clay particles, where mixed (C, O, Na and Si)-precipitates of kaolinite clays were formed on the surface of hydrocarbon-degrading bacterial cells. However, the uptake of Si (from kaolinite) by bacterial cells appeared to be more prevalent than Al, and there were no significant changes in basal spacings of kaolinite due to these altered kaolinite particles. Separate studies showed that hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria have a high resistance to Si. Thus, the present data suggest that Si from kaolinite may facilitate hydrocarbon-degrading bacterial growth as shown in our previous study (Chaerun et al., 2005), and the C-O-Na-Si complexes on the surfaces of bacterial cell walls may be the stimulator for hydrocarbon-degrading bacterial growth in seawater contaminated with oil spill.

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