Methanogenic toluene metabolism: community structure and intermediates

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Toluene is a model compound used to study the anaerobic biotransformation of aromatic hydrocarbons. Reports indicate that toluene is transformed via fumarate addition to form benzylsuccinate or by unknown mechanisms to form hydroxylated intermediates under methanogenic conditions. We investigated the mechanism(s) of syntrophic toluene metabolism by a newly described methanogenic enrichment from a gas condensate-contaminated aquifer. Pyrosequencing of 16S rDNA revealed that the culture was comprised mainly ofClostridiales. The predominant methanogens affiliated with theMethanomicrobiales. Methane production from toluene ranged from 72% to 79% of that stoichiometrically predicted. Isotope studies using 13C7 toluene showed that benzylsuccinate and benzoate transiently accumulated revealing that members of this consortium can catalyse fumarate addition and subsequent reactions. Detection of a BssA gene fragment in this culture further supported fumarate addition as a mechanism of toluene activation. Transient formation of cresols, benzylalcohol, hydroquinone and methylhydroquinone suggested alternative mechanism(s) for toluene metabolism. However, incubations of the consortium with 18O-H2O showed that the hydroxyl group in these metabolites did not originate from water and abiotic control experiments revealed abiotic formation of hydroxylated species due to reactions of toluene with sulfide and oxygen. Our results suggest that toluene is activated by fumarate addition, presumably by the dominantClostridiales.

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