Anaerobic Microbial Degradation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: A Comprehensive Review

  • Kartik Dhar
  • Suresh R. Subashchandrabose
  • Kadiyala Venkateswarlu
  • Kannan Krishnan
  • Mallavarapu MegharajEmail author
Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series (RECT, volume 251)


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a class of hazardous organic contaminants that are widely distributed in nature, and many of them are potentially toxic to humans and other living organisms. Biodegradation is the major route of detoxification and removal of PAHs from the environment. Aerobic biodegradation of PAHs has been the subject of extensive research; however, reports on anaerobic biodegradation of PAHs are so far limited. Microbial degradation of PAHs under anaerobic conditions is difficult because of the slow growth rate of anaerobes and low energy yield in the metabolic processes. Despite the limitations, some anaerobic bacteria degrade PAHs under nitrate-reducing, sulfate-reducing, iron-reducing, and methanogenic conditions. Anaerobic biodegradation, though relatively slow, is a significant process of natural attenuation of PAHs from the impacted anoxic environments such as sediments, subsurface soils, and aquifers. This review is intended to provide comprehensive details on microbial degradation of PAHs under various reducing conditions, to describe the degradation mechanisms, and to identify the areas that should receive due attention in further investigations.


2-Naphthoic acid Aerobic biodegradation Anaerobic biodegradation Anoxia Aromatic ring reduction Benzo(a)pyrene Biodegradation Bioremediation Fate of PAHs Genetics Iron-reducing bacteria  Mechanism of anaerobic biodegradation Metabolite profiling Methanogenic bacteria Microbial degradation Naphthalene Naphthalene carboxylase Nitrate-reducing bacteria PAH sources  Pathways of biodegradation Phenanthrene Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons Pyrene Sulfate-reducing bacteria Thermodynamics 



Standard Gibbs free energy change


1,2,3,4-Tetrahydro-2-naphthoic acid




1-Naphthoic acid






2-Naphthoic acid


5,6,7,8-Tetrahydro-2-naphthoic acid


Adenosine diphosphate


Adenosine triphosphate




Benzoyl-CoA reductase


Bromoethane sulfonic acid


Beta-oxidation of naphthyl-2-methylsuccinate


Benzylsuccinate synthase


Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene


Coenzyme A


Dissolved oxygen


Standard reduction potential


Fluidized bed reactor


Gas chromatography


Hydrogen peroxide


Hexahydro-2-naphthoic acid


High molecular weight




Liquid chromatography


Liquid chromatography electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry


Lignin peroxidase


Low molecular weight


Octanol-water partition coefficient


Manufactured gas plant sites


Methylnaphthoic acid


Manganese-dependent peroxidase


Mass spectrometry


Naphthoyl-CoA reductase


Naphthyl-2-methylenesuccinic acid


2-Napthylmethylsuccinate synthase


Naphthyl-2-methylsuccinic acid


Nitrate-reducing bacteria


Old yellow enzyme


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons


Persistent organic pollutants


Phenylphosphate carboxylase


Quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry


Ribosomal RNA


Soil organic matter


Sulfate-reducing bacteria


Tricarboxylic acid


Terminal electron acceptor


Tetrahydronaphthoic acid


Total organic carbon


Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism


3-Polyprenyl-4-hydroxybenzoate decarboxylase


United States Environmental Protection Agency



Kartik Dhar is grateful to the University of Newcastle for UNIPRS and UNRS central scholarship and to the University of Chittagong, Chittagong 4331, Bangladesh, for granting study leave.

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kartik Dhar
    • 1
    • 2
  • Suresh R. Subashchandrabose
    • 1
  • Kadiyala Venkateswarlu
    • 3
  • Kannan Krishnan
    • 1
  • Mallavarapu Megharaj
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Global Centre for Environmental Remediation (GCER), Faculty of ScienceThe University of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  2. 2.Department of MicrobiologyUniversity of ChittagongChittagongBangladesh
  3. 3.Formerly Department of MicrobiologySri Krishnadevaraya UniversityAnantapuramuIndia

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