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Environ Microbiol. 2014 Mar;16(3):612-27. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12328. Epub 2013 Dec 5.

Anaerobic degradation of homocyclic aromatic compounds via arylcarboxyl-coenzyme A esters: organisms, strategies and key enzymes.

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Institute for Biology II, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.


Next to carbohydrates, aromatic compounds are the second most abundant class of natural organic molecules in living organic matter but also make up a significant proportion of fossil carbon sources. Only microorganisms are capable of fully mineralizing aromatic compounds. While aerobic microbes use well-studied oxygenases for the activation and cleavage of aromatic rings, anaerobic bacteria follow completely different strategies to initiate catabolism. The key enzymes related to aromatic compound degradation in anaerobic bacteria are comprised of metal- and/or flavin-containing cofactors, of which many use unprecedented radical mechanisms for C-H bond cleavage or dearomatization. Over the past decade, the increasing number of completed genomes has helped to reveal a large variety of anaerobic degradation pathways in Proteobacteria, Gram-positive microbes and in one archaeon. This review aims to update our understanding of the occurrence of aromatic degradation capabilities in anaerobic microorganisms and serves to highlight characteristic enzymatic reactions involved in (i) the anoxic oxidation of alkyl side chains attached to aromatic rings, (ii) the carboxylation of aromatic rings and (iii) the reductive dearomatization of central arylcarboxyl-coenzyme A intermediates. Depending on the redox potential of the electron acceptors used and the metabolic efficiency of the cell, different strategies may be employed for identical overall reactions.

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