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Res Microbiol. 2002 Dec;153(10):621-8.

Anaerobic benzene biodegradation--a new era.

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  • 1Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University College Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. jcoates@micro.siu.edu


Benzene is biodegraded in the absence of oxygen under a variety of terminal electron-accepting conditions. However, the mechanism by which anaerobic benzene degradation occurs is unclear. Phenol and benzoate have been consistently detected as intermediates of anaerobic benzene degradation, suggesting that the hydroxylation of benzene to phenol is one of the initial steps in anaerobic benzene degradation. The conversion of phenol to benzoate could then occur by the carboxylation of phenol to form 4-hydroxybenzoate followed by the reductive removal of the hydroxyl group to form benzoate. 13C-Labeling studies suggest that the carboxyl carbon of benzoate is derived from one of the carbons of benzene. Although the fumarate addition reaction is commonly used to activate many hydrocarbons for anaerobic degradation, the large activation energy required to remove hydrogen from the benzene ring argues against such an approach for anaerobic benzene metabolism. The alkylation of benzene to toluene has been detected in several mammalian tissues, and offers an interesting alternate hypothesis for anaerobic benzene degradation in microbial systems. In support of this, anaerobic benzene degradation by Dechloromonas strain RCB, the only known species to degrade benzene in the absence of oxygen, is stimulated by the addition of vitamin B12 and inhibited by the addition of propyl iodide which is consistent with the involvement of a corrinoid enzymatic step. Alkylation of benzene to toluene is also consistent with labeling data that suggests that the carboxyl carbon of benzoate is derived from one of the benzene carbons. However, it is difficult to envision how phenol would be formed if benzene is alkylated to toluene. As such, it is possible that diverse mechanisms for anaerobic benzene degradation may be operative in different anaerobic microorganisms.

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