Aromatic compounds are among the most prevalent and persistent pollutants in the environment. Petroleum-contaminated soil and sediment commonly contain a mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic aromatics. Aromatics derived from industrial activities often have functional groups such as alkyls, halogens and nitro groups. Biodegradation is a major mechanism of removal of organic pollutants from a contaminated site. This review focuses on bacterial degradation pathways of selected aromatic compounds. Catabolic pathways of naphthalene, fluorene, phenanthrene, fluoranthene, pyrene, and benzo[a]pyrene are described in detail. Bacterial catabolism of the heterocycles dibenzofuran, carbazole, dibenzothiophene, and dibenzodioxin is discussed. Bacterial catabolism of alkylated PAHs is summarized, followed by a brief discussion of proteomics and metabolomics as powerful tools for elucidation of biodegradation mechanisms.
Keywords: Bioremediation; PAHs; biodegradation; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.