Molecular characteristics of xenobiotic-degrading sphingomonads

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The genus Sphingomonas (sensu latu) belongs to the α-Proteobacteria and comprises strictly aerobic chemoheterotrophic bacteria that are widespread in various aquatic and terrestrial environments. The members of this genus are often isolated and studied because of their ability to degrade recalcitrant natural and anthropogenic compounds, such as (substituted) biphenyl(s) and naphthalene(s), fluorene, (substituted) phenanthrene(s), pyrene, (chlorinated) diphenylether(s), (chlorinated) furan(s), (chlorinated) dibenzo-p-dioxin(s), carbazole, estradiol, polyethylene glycols, chlorinated phenols, nonylphenols, and different herbicides and pesticides. The metabolic versatility of these organisms suggests that they have evolved mechanisms to adapt quicker and/or more efficiently to the degradation of novel compounds in the environment than members of other bacterial genera. Comparative analyses demonstrate that sphingomonads generally use similar degradative pathways as other groups of microorganisms but deviate from competing microorganisms by the existence of multiple hydroxylating oxygenases and the conservation of specific gene clusters. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence for the existence of plasmids that only can be disseminated among sphingomonads and which undergo after conjugative transfer pronounced rearrangements.

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