Crude oil-derived hydrocarbons constitute the largest group of environmental pollutants worldwide. The number of reports concerning their toxicity and emphasizing the ultimate need to remove them from marine and soil environments confirms the unceasing interest of scientists in this field. Among the various techniques used for clean-up actions, bioremediation seems to be the most acceptable and economically justified. Analysis of recent reports regarding unsuccessful bioremediation attempts indicates that there is a need to highlight the fundamental aspects of hydrocarbon microbiology in a clear and concise manner. Therefore, in this review, we would like to elucidate some crucial, but often overlooked, factors. First, the formation of crude oil and abundance of naturally occurring hydrocarbons is presented and compared with bacterial ability to not only survive but also to utilize such compounds as an attractive energy source. Then, the significance of nutrient limitation on biomass growth is underlined on the example of a specially designed experiment and discussed in context of bioremediation efficiency. Next, the formation of aerobic and anaerobic conditions, as well as the role of surfactants for maintaining appropriate C:N:P ratio during initial stages of biodegradation is explained. Finally, a summary of recent scientific reports focused on the removal of hydrocarbon contaminants using bioaugmentation, biostimulation and introduction of surfactants, as well as biosurfactants, is presented. This review was designed to be a comprehensive source of knowledge regarding the unique aspects of hydrocarbon microbiology that may be useful for planning future biodegradation experiments. In addition, it is a starting point for wider debate regarding the limitations and possible improvements of currently employed bioremediation strategies.
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