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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1987 Feb;53(2):254-60.

Transformation of toluene and benzene by mixed methanogenic cultures.


The aromatic hydrocarbons toluene and benzene were anaerobically transformed by mixed methanogenic cultures derived from ferulic acid-degrading sewage sludge enrichments. In most experiments, toluene or benzene was the only semicontinuously supplied carbon and energy source in the defined mineral medium. No exogenous electron acceptors other than CO2 were present. The cultures were fed 1.5 to 30 mM unlabeled or 14C-labeled aromatic substrates (ring-labeled toluene and benzene or methyl-labeled toluene). Gas production from unlabeled substrates and 14C activity distribution in products from the labeled substrates were monitored over a period of 60 days. At least 50% of the substrates were converted to CO2 and methane (greater than 60%). A high percentage of 14CO2 was recovered from the methyl group-labeled toluene, suggesting nearly complete conversion of the methyl group to CO2 and not to methane. However, a low percentage of 14CO2 was produced from ring-labeled toluene or from benzene, indicating incomplete conversion of the ring carbon to CO2. Anaerobic transformation pathways for unlabeled toluene and benzene were studied with the help of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The intermediates detected are consistent with both toluene and benzene degradation via initial oxidation by ring hydroxylation or methyl oxidation (toluene), which would result in the production of phenol, cresols, or aromatic alcohol. Additional reactions, such as demethylation and ring reduction, are also possible. Tentative transformation sequences based upon the intermediates detected are discussed.

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