Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology

, Volume 54, Issue 1–3, pp 291–302 | Cite as

Environmental aspects of PAH biodegradation

  • Kay L. Shuttleworth
  • E. Cerniglia
Part V Environmental Remediation Bioprocessing


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous pollutants, some of which are on the US Environmental Protection Agency priority pollutant list. Consequently, timely clean-up of contaminated sites is important. The lower-mol-wt PAHs are amenable to bioremediation; however, higher-mol-wt PAHs seem to be recalcitrant to microbial degradation. The rates of biodegradation of PAHs are highly variable and are dependent not only on PAH structure, but also on the physicochemical parameters of the site as well as the number and types of microorganisms present. PAHs sorb to organic matter in soils and sediments, and the rate of their desorption strongly influences the rate at which microorganisms can degrade the pollutants. Much of the current PAH research focuses on techniques to enhance the bioavailability and, therefore, the degradation rates of PAHs at polluted sites. Degradation products of PAHs are, however, not necessarily less toxic than the parent compounds. Therefore, toxicity assays need to be incorporated into the procedures used to monitor the effectiveness of PAH bioremediation. In addition, this article highlights areas of PAH research that require further investigation.

Index Entries

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons PAHs biodegradation bioavailability water solubility degradation kinetics toxicity 


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Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kay L. Shuttleworth
    • 1
  • E. Cerniglia
    • 1
  1. 1.National Center for Toxicological Research, Division of MicrobiologyUS Food and Drug AdministrationJefferson

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