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Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Jan;113(1):62-7.

Metabolic biomarkers for monitoring in situ anaerobic hydrocarbon degradation.

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Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment, Cook College, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA.


During the past 15 years researchers have made great strides in understanding the metabolism of hydrocarbons by anaerobic bacteria. Organisms capable of utilizing benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, alkanes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been isolated and described. In addition, the mechanisms of degradation for these compounds have been elucidated. This basic research has led to the development of methods for detecting in situ biodegradation of petroleum-related pollutants in anoxic groundwater. Knowledge of the metabolic pathways used by anaerobic bacteria to break down hydrocarbons has allowed us to identify unique intermediate compounds that can be used as biomarkers for in situ activity. One of these unique intermediates is 2-methylbenzylsuccinate, the product of fumarate addition to o-xylene by the enzyme responsible for toluene utilization. We have carried out laboratory studies to show that this compound can be used as a reliable indicator of anaerobic toluene degradation. Field studies confirmed that the biomarker is detectable in field samples and its distribution corresponds to areas where active biodegradation is predicted. For naphthalene, three biomarkers were identified [2-naphthoic acid (2-NA), tetrahydro-2-NA, and hexahydro-2-NA] that can be used in the field to identify areas of active in situ degradation.

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