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Chapter 2 : A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis

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A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, Page 1 of 2

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Abstract:

This chapter presents a historical view of microbial biodegradation and biocatalysis. One indicator of the importance of oxygenases in microbial catabolism, and in the reactions principally studied for biodegradation and biocatalysis, is their high level of occurrence in the Biocatalysis/Biodegradation Database. As the 20th century proceeded, biochemical investigations of microbes revealed two important and seemingly contradictory views of the biochemistry of life. First, the idea of the unity of biochemistry was established. At the same time, the diversity of microbial metabolism was continuously recorded as new microbes were identified and studied biochemically. The role of oxygen in microbially mediated transformation of chemicals was perhaps first suggested by the work of Jean Jacques Schloesing and A. Muntz. A classic treatment of the thermodynamics of anaerobic metabolism was published by Rolf Thauer and colleagues in 1977. This review also elegantly described the thermodynamic logic behind interspecies hydrogen transfer. While anaerobic metabolism was important in commercial fermentation processes, the details of anaerobic reactions were not well known because of difficulties in culturing anaerobic bacteria in pure culture. This derived partly from the predilection of microbiologists for agar plate culturing and the difficulty of maintaining plates under sufficiently anoxic conditions. Experiments examining the expression of metabolic activities in microbial cells led to the idea of catabolite control, or induction, of enzyme activity.

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2

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Environmental Microbiology
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Mobile Genetic Elements
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Image of Figure 2.1
Figure 2.1

The tree of life as determined from comparison of 16S rRNA sequences. (Reproduced from reference with permission of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.2

Fungus growing on wood in the forest. (Reproduced from the Microbial World website [http://helios.bto.ed.ac.uk/bto/microbes/armill.htm] by permission of J. Deacon.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.3

Timeline showing some highlights in the study of microbial biocatalysis over the last 400 years.

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.4

Sergei Winogradsky, a pioneer in environmental microbiology and one of the developers of the enrichment culture technique. (Courtesy American Society for Microbiology [ASM] Archives.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.5

Martinus Beijerinck helped reveal the richness of the microbial world and develop the methods for isolating bacteria via enrichment culture. (Courtesy ASM Archives.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.6

The Delft microbiologist A. J. Kluyver recognized both the diversity of microbes and the unity of their fundamental metabolic processes later known as intermediary metabolism. (Courtesy ASM Archives.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Image of Figure 2.7
Figure 2.7

The various processes whereby microbial metabolism introduces oxygen atoms into organic substrates. (A) Dehydrogenation of a carbon-to-carbon single bond followed by addition of water; (B) -dioxygenative ring cleavage of a catechol to yield a dicarboxylic acid product; (C) -dioxygenative ring cleavage of catechol to yield a carboxyaldehyde.

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.8

Osamuri Hayishi, discoverer of oxygenase enzymes. (Courtesy ASM Archives.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.9

Irwin Gunsalus and his coworkers first studied bacterial cytochrome P450 monooxygenases and deduced key features of heme monooxygenase reaction mechanisms. (With permission from vol. 38, c 1984, by Annual Reviews www.AnnualReviews.org.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.10

David T. Gibson and his coworkers revealed the mechanisms of aromatic hydrocarbon metabolism and discovered the aromatic hydrocarbon dioxygenases exemplified by naphthalene dioxygenase. (Courtesy ASM Archives.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.11

Roger Starrier was a pioneer in studying and related soil bacteria and deducing features of their broad catabolic metabolism. (Courtesy ASM Archives.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Figure 2.12

Ananda Chakrabarty pioneered studies of transduction and catabolic plasmid transfer among strains. (Courtesy ASM Archives.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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Image of Figure 2.13
Figure 2.13

isolated by Chaim Weizmann, was used to produce acetone for the British war effort. (From by B. Dixon, c 1994, with permission.)

Citation: Wackett L, Hershberger C. 2001. A History of Concepts in Biodegradation and Microbial Catalysis, p 7-25. In Biocatalysis and Biodegration. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818036.ch2
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