Bacterial Degradation of Aromatic Compounds

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2009 Jan;6(1):278-309. doi: 10.3390/ijerph6010278. Epub 2009 Jan 13.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aerobiosis
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / metabolism*
  • Proteomics


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Heterocyclic Compounds
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons