Caister Academic Press

Genomic Insights Into the Aerobic Pathways for Degradation of Organic Pollutants

Michael P. McLeod and Lindsay D. Eltis
from: Microbial Biodegradation: Genomics and Molecular Biology (Edited by: Eduardo Díaz). Caister Academic Press, U.K. (2008)


The burgeoning amount of bacterial genomic data provides unparalleled opportunities for understanding the genetic and molecular bases of the degradation of organic pollutants. This chapter focuses on the aerobic degradation of aromatic compounds, among the most recalcitrant of these pollutants, and some of the lessons learned from the recent genomic studies of Burkholderia xenovorans LB400 and Rhodococcus sp. strain RHA1, two of the largest bacterial genomes completely sequenced to date. These studies have helped expand our understanding of bacterial catabolism, non-catabolic physiological adaptation to organic compounds, and the evolution of large bacterial genomes. First, the metabolic pathways from phylogenetically diverse isolates are very similar with respect to overall organization. Thus, as originally noted in pseudomonads, a large number of "peripheral aromatic" pathways funnel a range of natural and xenobiotic compounds into a restricted number of "central aromatic" pathways. Nevertheless, these pathways are genetically organized in genus-specific fashions, as exemplified by the b-ketoadipate and Paa pathways. Comparative genomic studies further reveal that some pathways are more widespread than initially thought. Thus, the Box and Paa pathways illustrate the prevalence of non-oxygenolytic ring-cleavage strategies in aerobic aromatic degradation processes. Functional genomic studies have been useful in establishing that even organisms harboring high numbers of homologous enzymes seem to contain few examples of true redundancy. For example, the multiplicity of ring-cleaving dioxygenases in certain rhodococcal isolates may be attributed to the cryptic aromatic catabolism of different terpenoids and steroids. Finally, analyses have indicated that recent genetic flux appears to have played a more significant role in the evolution of some large genomes, such as LB400's, than others. However, the emerging trend is that the large gene repertoires of potent pollutant degraders such as LB400 and RHA1 have evolved principally through more ancient processes. That this is true in such phylogenetically diverse species is remarkable, and further suggests the ancient origin of this catabolic capacity read more ...
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