Microbial degradation of explosives and related compounds

Crit Rev Microbiol. 1994;20(4):265-84. doi: 10.3109/10408419409113559.


The pollution of soil and water with explosives and related compounds caused by military activities has been known for a long time, but progress in understanding the environmental fate of such substances has only been made in the last few years. Microbial processes could be used for the remediation of explosives-contaminated soils and waste waters because it has been shown that a variety of different microorganisms are able to metabolize these chemical compounds. In some cases even a complete mineralization has been found, whereas in others only biotransformation reactions took place, producing more or less toxic and/or recalcitrant metabolites. Studies with pure cultures of bacteria and fungi have given detailed insights into the biodegradation pathways of at least some nitroorganic compounds. Additionally, some of the key enzymes have been isolated and purified or studied in crude extracts. This review summarizes information on the biodegradation and biotransformation pathways of several important explosives. This may be useful in developing microbiological methods for a safe and economic clean-up of soil and water contaminated with such compounds. It also shows the necessity of further investigations concerning the microbial metabolism of these substances.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Environmental Microbiology*
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Military Science
  • Nitroso Compounds / metabolism
  • Soil Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Toluene / metabolism
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*
  • Xenobiotics* / metabolism


  • Nitroso Compounds
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Xenobiotics
  • Toluene