Catabolic transposons

Biodegradation. 1994 Dec;5(3-4):323-42. doi: 10.1007/BF00696468.


The structure and function of transposable elements that code for catabolic pathways involved in the biodegradation of organic compounds are reviewed. Seven of these catabolic transposons have structural features that place them in the Class I (composite) or Class II (Tn3-family) bacterial elements. One is a conjugative transposon. Another three have been found to have properties of transposable elements but have not been characterized sufficiently to assign to a known class. Structural features of the toluene (Tn4651/Tn4653) and naphthalene (Tn4655) elements that illustrate the enormous potential for acquisition, deletion and rearrangement of DNA within catabolic transposons are discussed. The recently characterized chlorobenzoate (Tn5271) and chlorobenzene (Tn5280) catabolic transposons encode different aromatic ring dioxygenases, however they both illustrate the constraints that must be overcome when recipients of catabolic transposons assemble and regulate complete metabolic pathways for environmental pollutants. The structures of the chlorobenzoate catabolic transposon Tn5271 and the related haloacetate dehalogenase catabolic element of plasmid pUO1 are compared and a hypothesis for their formation is discussed. The structures and activities of catabolic transposons of unknown class coding for the catabolism of halogenated alkanoic acids (DEH) and chlorobiphenyl (Tn4371) are also reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Chlorobenzoates / metabolism
  • DNA Transposable Elements*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Naphthalenes / metabolism
  • Oxygenases / genetics
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / metabolism
  • Toluene / metabolism


  • Chlorobenzoates
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Naphthalenes
  • naphthalene
  • Toluene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Oxygenases