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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2006 May;72(5):3504-14.

Assessment of toluene/biphenyl dioxygenase gene diversity in benzene-polluted soils: links between benzene biodegradation and genes similar to those encoding isopropylbenzene dioxygenases.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Microbiology, GBF-German Research Centre for Biotechnology, Mascheroder Weg 1, D-38124 Braunschweig, Germany.


The PCR-single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) technique was used to assess the diversity and distribution of Rieske nonheme iron oxygenases of the toluene/biphenyl subfamily in soil DNA and bacterial isolates recovered from sites contaminated with benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX). The central cores of genes encoding the catalytic alpha subunits were targeted, since they are responsible for the substrate specificities of these enzymes. SSCP functional genotype fingerprinting revealed a substantial diversity of oxygenase genes in three differently BTEX-contaminated soil samples, and sequence analysis indicated that in both the soil DNA and the bacterial isolates, genes for oxygenases related to the isopropylbenzene (cumene) dioxygenase branch of the toluene/biphenyl oxygenase subfamily were predominant among the detectable genotypes. The peptide sequences of the two most abundant alpha subunit sequence types differed by only five amino acids (residues 258, 286, 288, 289, and 321 according to numbering in cumene dioxygenase alpha subunit CumA1 of Pseudomonas fluorescens IP01). However, a strong correlation between sequence type and substrate utilization pattern was observed in isolates harboring these genes. Two of these residues were located at positions contributing, according to the resolved crystal structure of cumene dioxygenase from Pseudomonas fluorescens IP01, to the inner surface of the substrate-binding pocket. Isolates containing an alpha subunit with isoleucine and leucine at positions 288 and 321, respectively, were capable of degrading benzene and toluene, whereas isolates containing two methionine substitutions were found to be incapable of degrading toluene, indicating that the more bulky methionine residues significantly narrowed the available space within the substrate-binding pocket.

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