A lack of consensus in the literature findings on the removal of airborne benzene by houseplants: Effect of bacterial enrichment
Removal rates of benzene and formaldehyde gas by houseplants reported by several laboratories varied by several orders of magnitude. We hypothesized that these variations were caused by differential responses of soil microbial populations to the high levels of pollutant used in the studies, and tested responses to benzene by plants and soils separately. Five houseplant species and tobacco were exposed to benzene under hydroponic conditions and the uptake rates compared. Among the test plants, Syngonium podophyllum and Chlorophytum comosum and Epipremnum aureum had the highest benzene removal rates. The effects of benzene addition on populations of soil bacteria were determined using reverse transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) assays targeting microbial genes involved in benzene degradation. The total bacterial population increased as shown by increases in the levels of eubacteria 16S rRNA, which was significantly higher in the high benzene incubations than in the low benzene incubations. Transcripts (mRNA) of genes encoding phenol monooxygenases, catechol-2,3-dioxygenase and the housekeeping gene rpoB increased in all soils incubated with high benzene concentrations. Therefore the enrichment of soils with benzene gas levels typical of experiments with houseplants in the literature artificially increased the levels of total soil bacterial populations, and especially the levels and activities of benzene-degrading bacteria.