Enhanced biodegradation of aromatic pollutants in cocultures of anaerobic and aerobic bacterial consortia

Jim A. Field, Alfons J.M. Stams, Mario Kato, Gosse Schraa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

274 Scopus citations


Toxic aromatic pollutants, concentrated in industrial wastes and contaminated sites, can potentially be eliminated by low cost bioremediation systems. Most commonly, the goal of these treatment systems is directed at providing optimum environmental conditions for the mineralization of the pollutants by naturally occurring microflora. Electrophilic aromatic pollutants with multiple chloro, nitro and azo groups have proven to be persistent to biodegradation by aerobic bacteria. These compounds are readily reduced by anaerobic consortia to lower chlorinated aromatics or aromatic amines but are not mineralized further. The reduction increases the susceptibility of the aromatic molecule for oxygenolytic attack. Sequencing anaerobic and aerobic biotreatment steps provide enhanced mineralization of many electrophilic aromatic pollutants. The combined activity of anaerobic and aerobic bacteria can also be obtained in a single treatment step if the bacteria are immobilized in particulate matrices (e.g. biofilm, soil aggregate, etc.). Due to the rapid uptake of oxygen by aerobes and facultative bacteria compared to the slow diffusion of oxygen, oxygen penetration into active biofilms seldom exceeds several hundred micrometers. The anaerobic microniches established inside the biofilms can be applied to the reduction of electron withdrawing functional groups in order to prepare recalcitrant aromatic compounds for further mineralization in the aerobic outer layer of the biofilm. Aside from mineralization, polyhydroxylated and chlorinated phenols as well as nitroaromatics and aromatic amines are susceptible to polymerization in aerobic environments. Consequently, an alternative approach for bioremediation systems can be directed towards incorporating these aromatic pollutants into detoxified humic-like substances. The activation of aromatic pollutants for polymerization can potentially be encouraged by an anaerobic pretreatment step prior to oxidation. Anaerobic bacteria can modify aromatic pollutants by demethylating methoxy groups and reducing nitro groups. The resulting phenols and aromatic amines are readily polymerized in a subsequent aerobic step.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-77
Number of pages31
JournalAntonie van Leeuwenhoek
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1995


  • aromatic amines
  • azo dyes
  • bioremediation
  • chloroaromatics
  • mineralization
  • nitroaromatics
  • oxygen tolerance
  • polymerization
  • recalcitrance
  • sequential-degradation
  • synchronous-degradation
  • xenobiotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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