Microbial degradation of aromatic compounds - from one strategy to four

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 Oct 3;9(11):803-16. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2652.


Aromatic compounds are both common growth substrates for microorganisms and prominent environmental pollutants. The crucial step in their degradation is overcoming the resonance energy that stabilizes the ring structure. The classical strategy for degradation comprises an attack by oxygenases that hydroxylate and finally cleave the ring with the help of activated molecular oxygen. Here, we describe three alternative strategies used by microorganisms to degrade aromatic compounds. All three of these methods involve the use of CoA thioesters and ring cleavage by hydrolysis. However, these strategies are based on different ring activation mechanisms that consist of either formation of a non-aromatic ring-epoxide under oxic conditions, or reduction of the aromatic ring under anoxic conditions using one of two completely different systems.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Biotransformation
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / metabolism*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons