Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon biodegradation rates: A structure-based study

Kristine H. Wammer, Catherine Anne Peters

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This study was designed to examine the role of molecular structure in determining the biodegradation rates of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Laboratory experiments were performed in aqueous systems, and data were analyzed in a manner that allowed determination of first-order biodegradation rates independent of bioavailability limitations from physical-chemical processes. An aerobic mixed culture was used, which had been enriched on a broad range of PAHs. The 22 PAHs included in this study ranged in size from two to four rings and included compounds with 5-carbon rings and alkyl substituents. The range of observed biodegradation rates was only 1 order of magnitude, which is much less than that which is typically observed in the field. This supports the findings of other types of studies, which conclude that most of the observed variation in environmental PAH biodegradation rates comes from processes controlling the bioavailability of the compounds and not processes controlling uptake or biotransformation. Rate differences that were observed were attributable either to the presence of a 5-carbon ring or an alkyl substituent in an α position. Various molecular descriptors that might be expected to correlate with rate-limiting steps in the biodegradation process were used in an attempt to develop a quantitative structure-activity relationship for the PAH biodegradation rates. No significant correlations were found, but rate limitation from interactions with the relevant enzymes remains a possibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2571-2578
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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