Enzymes and genes involved in the aerobic biodegradation of methyltert-butyl ether (MTBE)

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Fuel oxygenates, mainly methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) but also ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE), are added to gasoline in replacement of lead tetraethyl to enhance its octane index. Their addition also improves the combustion efficiency and therefore decreases the emission of pollutants (CO and hydrocarbons). On the other hand, MTBE, being highly soluble in water and recalcitrant to biodegradation, is a major pollutant of water in aquifers contaminated by MTBE-supplemented gasoline during accidental release. MTBE was shown to be degraded through cometabolic oxidation or to be used as a carbon and energy source by a few microorganisms. We have summarized the present state of knowledge about the microorganisms involved in MTBE degradation and the MTBE catabolic pathways. The role of the different enzymes is discussed as well as the rare and recent data concerning the genes encoding the enzymes involved in the MTBE pathway. The phylogeny of the microorganisms isolated for their capacity to grow on MTBE is also described.

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