Organophosphonates revealed: new insights into the microbial metabolism of ancient molecules

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2013 Jun;11(6):412-9. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro3011. Epub 2013 Apr 29.


Organophosphonates are ancient molecules that contain the chemically stable C-P bond, which is considered a relic of the reducing atmosphere on primitive earth. Synthetic phosphonates now have a wide range of applications in the agricultural, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. However, the existence of C-P compounds as contemporary biogenic molecules was not discovered until 1959, with the identification of 2-aminoethylphosphonic acid in rumen protozoa. Here, we review advances in our understanding of the biochemistry and genetics of microbial phosphonate metabolism, and discuss the role of these compounds and of the organisms engaged in their turnover within the P cycle.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Organophosphonates / chemistry*
  • Organophosphonates / metabolism*
  • Phosphorus / chemistry
  • Phosphorus / metabolism


  • Organophosphonates
  • Phosphorus