Author(s): van der Meer JR, de Vos WM, Harayama S, Zehnder AJ
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Abstract Microorganisms in the environment can often adapt to use xenobiotic chemicals as novel growth and energy substrates. Specialized enzyme systems and metabolic pathways for the degradation of man-made compounds such as chlorobiphenyls and chlorobenzenes have been found in microorganisms isolated from geographically separated areas of the world. The genetic characterization of an increasing number of aerobic pathways for degradation of (substituted) aromatic compounds in different bacteria has made it possible to compare the similarities in genetic organization and in sequence which exist between genes and proteins of these specialized catabolic routes and more common pathways. These data suggest that discrete modules containing clusters of genes have been combined in different ways in the various catabolic pathways. Sequence information further suggests divergence of catabolic genes coding for specialized enzymes in the degradation of xenobiotic chemicals. An important question will be to find whether these specialized enzymes evolved from more common isozymes only after the introduction of xenobiotic chemicals into the environment. Evidence is presented that a range of genetic mechanisms, such as gene transfer, mutational drift, and genetic recombination and transposition, can accelerate the evolution of catabolic pathways in bacteria. However, there is virtually no information concerning the rates at which these mechanisms are operating in bacteria living in nature and the response of such rates to the presence of potential (xenobiotic) substrates. Quantitative data on the genetic processes in the natural environment and on the effect of environmental parameters on the rate of evolution are needed.
This article was published in Microbiol Rev
and referenced in Journal of Nursing & Care