Catabolic Pathways Involved in the Anaerobic Degradation of Saturated Hydrocarbons

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


Structurally diverse saturated hydrocarbons (n-alkanes, branched alkanes, cycloalkanes) occur frequently and abundantly in microbial habitats. A diversity of enrichment and pure cultures of microorganisms which originate from such environments and degrade saturated hydrocarbons under strictly anoxic conditions have been characterized physiologically and phylogenetically. Typically, n-alkane-degrading anaerobic microorganisms exhibit more or less pronounced substrate specificities with respect to chain length range of utilizable n-alkanes; notably, very limited knowledge exists regarding anaerobic degradation of ethane. Currently, four different metabolic strategies are known to be employed by such organisms when growing anaerobically with n-alkanes. Best characterized is the pathway initiated by the addition of the hydrocarbon substrate to the co-substrate fumarate catalyzed by a glycyl radical enzyme. Other enzyme reactions apparently used for activation of the highly inert substrates include dehydrogenation/anaerobic hydroxylation, transformation to alkyl-coenzyme M, and “intra-aerobic” oxidation. Subsequent catabolic pathways necessarily differ depending on the chemical nature of the initial activation product. Branched alkanes and cycloalkanes appear to be metabolized through analogous activation reactions and catabolic pathways; however, their degradation by anaerobic microorganisms is less well understood.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Organic Geochemistry, Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM)Carl von Ossietzky University OldenburgOldenburgGermany
  2. 2.General and Molecular Microbiology, Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM)Carl von Ossietzky University OldenburgOldenburgGermany

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