Substrate Hydrophobicity and Cell Composition Influence the Extent of Rate Limitation and Masking of Isotope Fractionation during Microbial Reductive Dehalogenation of Chlorinated Ethenes

This study investigated the effect of intracellular microscale mass transfer on microbial carbon isotope fractionation of tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE). Significantly stronger isotope fractionation was observed for crude extracts vs intact cells of <i>Sulfurospirillum multivorans</i>, <i>Geobacter lovleyi</i>, <i>Desulfuromonas michiganensis</i>, <i>Desulfitobacterium hafniense</i> strain PCE-S, and <i>Dehalobacter restrictus</i>. Furthermore, carbon stable isotope fractionation was stronger for microorganisms with a Gram-positive cell envelope compared to those with a Gram-negative cell envelope. Significant differences were observed between model organisms in cellular sorption capacity for PCE (<i>S. multivorans</i>-K<sub>d‑PCE</sub> = 0.42–0.51 L g<sup>–1</sup>; <i>D. hafniense</i>-K<sub>d‑PCE</sub> = 0.13 L g<sup>–1</sup>), as well as in envelope hydrophobicity (<i>S. multivorans</i> 33.0° to 72.2°; <i>D. hafniense</i> 59.1° to 60.8°) when previously cultivated with fumarate or PCE as electron acceptor, but not for TCE. Cell envelope properties and the tetrachloroethene reductive dehalogenase (PceA-RDase) localization did not result in significant effects on observed isotope fractionation of TCE. For PCE, however, systematic masking of isotope effects as a result of microscale mass transfer limitation at microbial membranes was observed, with carbon isotope enrichment factors of −2.2‰, −1.5 to −1.6‰, and −1.0‰ (CI<sub>95%</sub> < ± 0.2‰) for no membrane, hydrophilic outer membrane, and outer + cytoplasmic membrane, respectively. Conclusively, rate-limiting mass transfer barriers were (a) the outer membrane or cell wall and (b) the cytoplasmic membrane in case of a cytoplasmic location of the RDase enzyme. Overall, our results indicate that masking of isotope fractionation is determined by (1) hydrophobicity of the degraded compound, (2) properties of the cell envelope, and (3) the localization of the reacting enzyme.