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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2008 Nov;32(6):927-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2008.00127.x. Epub 2008 Jul 24.

Microbial biodegradation of polyaromatic hydrocarbons.

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Shanghai Key Laboratory of Agricultural Genetics and Breeding, Agro-Biotechnology Research Institute, Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Shanghai, China.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are widespread in various ecosystems and are pollutants of great concern due to their potential toxicity, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity. Because of their hydrophobic nature, most PAHs bind to particulates in soil and sediments, rendering them less available for biological uptake. Microbial degradation represents the major mechanism responsible for the ecological recovery of PAH-contaminated sites. The goal of this review is to provide an outline of the current knowledge of microbial PAH catabolism. In the past decade, the genetic regulation of the pathway involved in naphthalene degradation by different gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria was studied in great detail. Based on both genomic and proteomic data, a deeper understanding of some high-molecular-weight PAH degradation pathways in bacteria was provided. The ability of nonligninolytic and ligninolytic fungi to transform or metabolize PAH pollutants has received considerable attention, and the biochemical principles underlying the degradation of PAHs were examined. In addition, this review summarizes the information known about the biochemical processes that determine the fate of the individual components of PAH mixtures in polluted ecosystems. A deeper understanding of the microorganism-mediated mechanisms of catalysis of PAHs will facilitate the development of new methods to enhance the bioremediation of PAH-contaminated sites.

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