Send to

Choose Destination
Front Microbiol. 2012 Jan 26;3:19. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2012.00019. eCollection 2012.

The genes and enzymes of phosphonate metabolism by bacteria, and their distribution in the marine environment.

Author information

School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, UK.


Phosphonates are compounds that contain the chemically stable carbon-phosphorus (C-P) bond. They are widely distributed amongst more primitive life forms including many marine invertebrates and constitute a significant component of the dissolved organic phosphorus reservoir in the oceans. Virtually all biogenic C-P compounds are synthesized by a pathway in which the key step is the intramolecular rearrangement of phosphoenolpyruvate to phosphonopyruvate. However C-P bond cleavage by degradative microorganisms is catalyzed by a number of enzymes - C-P lyases, C-P hydrolases, and others of as-yet-uncharacterized mechanism. Expression of some of the pathways of phosphonate catabolism is controlled by ambient levels of inorganic P (Pi) but for others it is Pi-independent. In this report we review the enzymology of C-P bond metabolism in bacteria, and also present the results of an in silico investigation of the distribution of the genes that encode the pathways responsible, in both bacterial genomes and in marine metagenomic libraries, and their likely modes of regulation. Interrogation of currently available whole-genome bacterial sequences indicates that some 10% contain genes encoding putative pathways of phosphonate biosynthesis while ∼40% encode one or more pathways of phosphonate catabolism. Analysis of metagenomic data from the global ocean survey suggests that some 10 and 30%, respectively, of bacterial genomes across the sites sampled encode these pathways. Catabolic routes involving phosphonoacetate hydrolase, C-P lyase(s), and an uncharacterized 2-aminoethylphosphonate degradative sequence were predominant, and it is likely that both substrate-inducible and Pi-repressible mechanisms are involved in their regulation. The data we present indicate the likely importance of phosphonate-P in global biogeochemical P cycling, and by extension its role in marine productivity and in carbon and nitrogen dynamics in the oceans.


C–P bond; marine bacteria; phosphonate; phosphorus cycling

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Frontiers Media SA Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center