Many microorganisms in nature have evolved new genes which encode catabolic enzymes specific for chlorinated aromatic substrates, allowing them to utilize these compounds as sole sources of carbon and energy. An understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms involved in the acquisition of such genes may facilitate the development of microorganisms with enhanced capabilities of degrading highly chlorinated recalcitrant compounds. A number of studies have been based on microorganisms isolated from the environment which utilize simple chlorinated substrates. In our laboratory, a selective technique was used to isolate microorganisms capable of degrading highly chlorinated compounds, such as 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), as sole sources of carbon and energy. This article summarizes the genetic and biochemical information obtained regarding the pathway of degradation, the mechanism of recruitment of new genes, and the organization of the degradative genes. In addition, we discuss the potential practical application of such microorganisms in the environment.