Publication Date

Summer 2022

Document Type

Capstone Project

Degree Name

Master of Science


Environmental Biology

First Advisor

Timothy Gsell

Second Advisor

John Yunger

Third Advisor

Xiaoyong Chen


Phthalates are a common chemical compound used as plasticizers in various industries that have been linked to several detrimental effects on health. Due to their widespread use, they have become a common environmental pollutant of soil and water. The persistence and distribution of phthalate esters in the environment has given rise to many microorganisms that are able to incorporate phthalates into various metabolic pathways and degrade them into harmless substances, with fungi being among those that are capable of such degradation of industrial polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In this study, the diversity of fungal communities in response to the presence of phthalates within soil will be assessed using metagenomic analysis and their capacity for phthalate degradation will be examined. This research has shown that all fungal isolates obtained from contaminated and uncontaminated soil were able to grow on media with phthalate as the sole carbon source. Vermillion River saw a similar level of Shannon diversity at the species level when compared to Big Marsh. A principal components analysis showed the carbon usage between sites did not differ greatly and a two-sample t-test showed no significance in diversity between sites. Several notable known degraders of phthalates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were observed at each site including Sarocladium strictum, Irpex lacteus, and Fusarium culmorum. Several species of fungi not known to be capable of degrading phthalates were identified within phthalate-laced enrichments. This research suggests that the presence of such fungi at both sites may mean they are naturally predisposed to be capable of degrading phthalates and other xenobiotic compounds. Finally, the metagenomics analysis revealed the presence of several species not observed in the Unites States before.

Included in

Biology Commons