Persistency assessment and aerobic biodegradation of selected cyclic sesquiterpenes present in essential oils

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2011 May;30(5):1096-108. doi: 10.1002/etc.492. Epub 2011 Mar 14.


Sesquiterpenes are ubiquitous in essential oils but an assessment of their environmental behavior is still required for their use as components of natural fragrance ingredients and oral care flavors. Persistency plays a key role in hazard and risk assessment, but the current knowledge on the biodegradation of sesquiterpenes in the aquatic environment is limited. This could have important consequences for the persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) assessment of essential oils because most of the sesquiterpene components have a log K(OW) of >4.5 and are identified as potentially bioaccumulating according to REACH screening criteria. In the present study, a persistency screening assessment was conducted on 11 cyclic sesquiterpenes selected from 10 different families of sesquiterpenes characterized by their carbon skeleton. Current biodegradation prediction models (BioWin™, BioHCwin, and Catalogic) were found to be of limited use because most of the sesquiterpenes studied were outside the structural domain of the models. Aerobic biodegradation was measured in a standard or prolonged Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 301F Manometric Respirometry test for ready biodegradability. α-Bisabolol, α-humulene, β-caryophyllene, α-cedrene, cedrol, longifolene, and δ-cadinene exceeded the pass level of 60% degradation and can be regarded as not persistent. Alpha-gurjunene, himachalenes (α, β, γ), and (-)-thujopsene almost achieved the pass level reaching between 51% and 56% ultimate biodegradation. Although germacrene D only achieved 24% ultimate biodegradation, specific analysis at the end of the test did indicate complete primary degradation. Given that the shape of the biodegradation curves indicates poor bioavailability and ready biodegradability tests are very stringent, it is expected that all the sesquiterpenes tested in the present study would be degraded under environmental conditions.

MeSH terms

  • Aerobiosis
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Oils, Volatile / analysis
  • Oils, Volatile / metabolism*
  • Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Sesquiterpenes / analysis
  • Sesquiterpenes / metabolism*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*


  • Oils, Volatile
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical