Prokaryotic Hydrocarbon Degraders

Reference work entry
Part of the Handbook of Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology book series (HHLM)


Hydrocarbons have been part of the biosphere for millions of years, and a diverse group of prokaryotes has evolved to use them as a source of carbon and energy. To date, the vast majority of formally defined genera are eubacterial, in 7 of the 24 major phyla currently formally recognized by taxonomists (Tree of Life, Accessed 1 Sept 2017, 2017), principally in the Actinobacteria, the Bacteroidetes, the Firmicutes, and the Proteobacteria. Some Cyanobacteria have been shown to degrade hydrocarbons on a limited scale, but whether this is of any ecological significance remains to be seen – it is likely that all aerobic organisms show some basal metabolism of hydrocarbons by nonspecific oxygenases, and similar “universal” metabolism may occur in anaerobes. This chapter focuses on the now quite large number of named microbial genera where there is reasonably convincing evidence for hydrocarbon metabolism. We have found more than 320 genera of Eubacteria and 12 genera of Archaea. Molecular methods are revealing a vastly greater diversity of currently uncultured organisms – Hug et al. (Nat Microbiol 1:16048, 2016) claim 92 named bacterial phyla, many with almost totally unknown physiology – and it seems reasonable to believe that the catalog of genera reported here will be substantially expanded in the future.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stonybrook ApiaryPittstownUSA
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesUniversity of EssexColchesterUK

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