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Enzymes and genes involved in the aerobic biodegradation of methyl tert-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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Nicolas Lopes Ferreira and Cédric Malandain were supported by a Convention Industrielle de Formation par la Recherche (C.I.F.R.E.) fellowship provided by both the Institut Français du Pétrole (I.F.P.) and the Association Nationale de la Recherche Technique (A.N.R.T.). We thank Charles W. Greer for numerous helpful suggestions and discussions. We thank Diane Labbé (BRI, Montréal) for her help in building the phylogenetic tree. We thank Robert Steffan, Paul Hatzinger, and Simon Vainberg (Shaw Group) for communicating the 16S rDNA sequences of strains ENV735, ENV736, and ENV472. We thank Thore Rohwerder for the early communication of his manuscript in press. We are really grateful to Pierre Béguin (Pasteur Institute) and Frédéric Monot (IFP) for their comments and corrections on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Françoise Fayolle-Guichard.

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Lopes Ferreira, N., Malandain, C. & Fayolle-Guichard, F. Enzymes and genes involved in the aerobic biodegradation of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 72, 252–262 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00253-006-0494-3

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  • MTBE
  • ETBE
  • Alkane Hydroxylase
  • MTBE Degradation
  • Rhodococcus Ruber