Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 67, Issue 5, pp 600–618 | Cite as

Biodegradation of xenobiotics by anaerobic bacteria

  • Chunlong Zhang
  • George N. Bennett


Xenobiotic biodegradation under anaerobic conditions such as in groundwater, sediment, landfill, sludge digesters and bioreactors has gained increasing attention over the last two decades. This review gives a broad overview of our current understanding of and recent advances in anaerobic biodegradation of five selected groups of xenobiotic compounds (petroleum hydrocarbons and fuel additives, nitroaromatic compounds and explosives, chlorinated aliphatic and aromatic compounds, pesticides, and surfactants). Significant advances have been made toward the isolation of bacterial cultures, elucidation of biochemical mechanisms, and laboratory and field scale applications for xenobiotic removal. For certain highly chlorinated hydrocarbons (e.g., tetrachlorethylene), anaerobic processes cannot be easily substituted with current aerobic processes. For petroleum hydrocarbons, although aerobic processes are generally used, anaerobic biodegradation is significant under certain circumstances (e.g., O2-depleted aquifers, oil spilled in marshes). For persistent compounds including polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, and DDT, anaerobic processes are slow for remedial application, but can be a significant long-term avenue for natural attenuation. In some cases, a sequential anaerobic-aerobic strategy is needed for total destruction of xenobiotic compounds. Several points for future research are also presented in this review.


PCBs Atrazine Dioxin Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate BTEX 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Research in authors’ laboratories has been supported by the Welch Foundation (C-1268) and BC-0022, DSWA, EIH and SERDP. This material is also based on work supported in part by the United States Army Research Laboratory and the United States Army Research Office (Grant DOD Army W911NF-04-1-0179)


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© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of Houston-Clear LakeHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biochemistry and Cell BiologyRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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