Optimizing Polychlorinated Biphenyl Degradation by Flavonoid-Induced Cells of the Rhizobacterium Rhodococcus erythropolis U23A

PLoS One. 2015 May 13;10(5):e0126033. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126033. eCollection 2015.


There is evidence that many plant secondary metabolites may act as signal molecules to trigger the bacterial ability to metabolize polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) during the rhizoremediation process. However, the bases for the PCB rhizoremediation process are still largely unknown. The rhizobacterium Rhodococcus erythropolis U23A is unable to use flavanone as a growth substrate. However, on the basis of an assay that monitors the amount of 4-chlorobenzoate produced from 4-chlorobiphenyl by cells grown co-metabolically on flavanone plus sodium acetate, this flavonoid was previously found to be a potential inducer of the U23A biphenyl catabolic pathway. In this work, and using the same assay, we identified ten other flavonoids that did not support growth, but that acted as inducers of the U23A biphenyl pathway, and we confirmed flavonoid induction of the biphenyl catabolic pathway using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) on the bphA gene. We also examined the effect of the growth co-substrate on flavonoid induction. Sodium acetate was replaced by glucose, mannose, sucrose, or mannitol, which are sugars found in plant root exudates. The data showed that the level of induction of strain U23A biphenyl-degrading enzymes was significantly influenced by the nature and concentration of the flavonoid in the growth medium, as well as by the substrate used for growth. Sucrose allowed for an optimal induction response for most flavonoids. Some flavonoids, such as flavone and isoflavone, were better inducers of the biphenyl catabolic enzymes than biphenyl itself. We also found that all flavonoids tested in this work were metabolized by strain U23A during co-metabolic growth, but that the metabolite profiles, as well as the level of efficiency of degradation, differed for each flavonoid. To obtain insight into how flavonoids interact with strain U23A to promote polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) degradation, we determined the concentration of flavanone at which optimal PCB-degrading performance of strain U23A was achieved. We showed that it corresponded to the concentration required to fully induce the biphenyl catabolic pathway of the strain. Together, our data demonstrate that optimal PCB degradation during the rhizoremediation process will require the adjustment of several parameters, including the presence of the appropriate flavonoids at the proper concentrations and the presence of proper growth substrates that positively influence the ability of flavonoids to induce the pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Biological Assay
  • Chlorobenzoates / chemistry
  • Culture Media
  • DNA Gyrase / genetics
  • DNA Gyrase / metabolism
  • Dioxygenases / genetics
  • Dioxygenases / metabolism
  • Disaccharides / metabolism
  • Disaccharides / pharmacology
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Flavonoids / metabolism
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Hexoses / metabolism
  • Hexoses / pharmacology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Plant Roots / microbiology
  • Plants / microbiology
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / metabolism*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Rhizobiaceae / drug effects*
  • Rhizobiaceae / enzymology
  • Rhizobiaceae / genetics
  • Rhodococcus / drug effects*
  • Rhodococcus / enzymology
  • Rhodococcus / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Chlorobenzoates
  • Culture Media
  • Disaccharides
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Flavonoids
  • Hexoses
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Dioxygenases
  • DNA Gyrase
  • 4-chlorobenzoic acid

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) (grant RGPIN/39579-2012).