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Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2013 May;97(9):3827-41. doi: 10.1007/s00253-013-4838-5. Epub 2013 Apr 2.

Bacterial metabolism of environmental arsenic--mechanisms and biotechnological applications.

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Department of Environmental Biotechnology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ, Permoserstr. 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany.


Arsenic causes threats for environmental and human health in numerous places around the world mainly due to its carcinogenic potential at low doses. Removing arsenic from contaminated sites is hampered by the occurrence of several oxidation states with different physicochemical properties. The actual state of arsenic strongly depends on its environment whereby microorganisms play important roles in its geochemical cycle. Due to its toxicity, nearly all organisms possess metabolic mechanisms to resist its hazardous effects, mainly by active extrusion, but also by extracellular precipitation, chelation, and intracellular sequestration. Some microbes are even able to actively use various arsenic compounds in their metabolism, either as an electron donor or as a terminal electron acceptor for anaerobic respiration. Some microorganisms can also methylate inorganic arsenic, probably as a resistance mechanism, or demethylate organic arsenicals. Bioavailability of arsenic in water and sediments is strongly influenced by such microbial activities. Therefore, understanding microbial reactions to arsenic is of importance for the development of technologies for improved bioremediation of arsenic-contaminated waters and environments. This review gives an overview of the current knowledge on bacterial interactions with arsenic and on biotechnologies for its detoxification and removal.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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