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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Sep;71(9):5427-32.

Hydroxylation and carboxylation--two crucial steps of anaerobic benzene degradation by Dechloromonas strain RCB.

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  • 1Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Benzene is a highly toxic industrial compound that is essential to the production of various chemicals, drugs, and fuel oils. Due to its toxicity and carcinogenicity, much recent attention has been focused on benzene biodegradation, especially in the absence of molecular oxygen. However, the mechanism by which anaerobic benzene biodegradation occurs is still unclear. This is because until the recent isolation of Dechloromonas strains JJ and RCB no organism that anaerobically degraded benzene was available with which to elucidate the pathway. Although many microorganisms use an initial fumarate addition reaction for hydrocarbon biodegradation, the large activation energy required argues against this mechanism for benzene. Other possible mechanisms include hydroxylation, carboxylation, biomethylation, or reduction of the benzene ring, but previous studies performed with undefined benzene-degrading cultures were unable to clearly distinguish which, if any, of these alternatives is used. Here we demonstrate that anaerobic nitrate-dependent benzene degradation by Dechloromonas strain RCB involves an initial hydroxylation, subsequent carboxylation, and loss of the hydroxyl group to form benzoate. These studies provide the first pure-culture evidence of the pathway of anaerobic benzene degradation. The outcome of these studies also suggests that all anaerobic benzene-degrading microorganisms, regardless of their terminal electron acceptor, may use this pathway.

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