The Behavior of Bacteria Designed for Biodegradation

Biotechnology (N Y). 1994 Dec;12(13):1349-56. doi: 10.1038/nbt1294-1349.


Mineralization of organic molecules by microbes is essential for the carbon cycle to operate. The massive mobilization of compounds stored in natural resources, or the introduction of xenobiotics into the biosphere, leads to unidirectional fluxes, which result in the persistance of a number of chemicals in the biosphere, and thus constitute a source of pollution. Molecular biology offers the tools to optimize the biodegradative capacities of microorganisms, accelerate the evolution of "new" activities, and construct totally "new" pathways through the assemblage of catabolic segments from different microbes. Although the number of genetically engineered microbes (GEMs) for potential use in biodegradation is not large, these recombinant microbes function in microcosms according to their design. The survival and fate of recombinant microbes in different ecological niches under laboratory conditions is similar to what has been observed for the unmodified parental strains. rDNA, both on plasmids and on the host chromosome, is usually stably inherited by GEMs. The potential lateral transfer of rDNA from the GEMs to other microbes is significantly diminished, though not totally inhibited, when rDNA is incorporated on the host chromosome. The behavior and fate of GEMs can be predicted more accurately through the coupling of regulatory circuits that control the expression of catabolic pathways to killing genes, so that the GEMs survive in polluted environments, but die when the target chemical is eliminated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Biodegradation, Environmental*
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Genetic Engineering*
  • Industrial Microbiology*
  • Minerals / metabolism
  • Pseudomonas / genetics
  • Pseudomonas / metabolism


  • Minerals