Isolation and Characterization of 4-tert-Butylphenol-Utilizing Sphingobium fuliginis Strains from Phragmites australis Rhizosphere Sediment
We isolated three Sphingobium fuliginis strains from Phragmites australis rhizosphere sediment that were capable of utilizing 4-tert-butylphenol as a sole carbon and energy source. These strains are the first 4-tert-butylphenol-utilizing bacteria. The strain designated TIK-1 completely degraded 1.0 mM 4-tert-butylphenol in basal salts medium within 12 h, with concomitant cell growth. We identified 4-tert-butylcatechol and 3,3-dimethyl-2-butanone as internal metabolites by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. When 3-fluorocatechol was used as an inactivator of meta-cleavage enzymes, strain TIK-1 could not degrade 4-tert-butylcatechol and 3,3-dimethyl-2-butanone was not detected. We concluded that metabolism of 4-tert-butylphenol by strain TIK-1 is initiated by hydroxylation to 4-tert-butylcatechol, followed by a meta-cleavage pathway. Growth experiments with 20 other alkylphenols showed that 4-isopropylphenol, 4-sec-butylphenol, and 4-tert-pentylphenol, which have alkyl side chains of three to five carbon atoms with α-quaternary or α-tertiary carbons, supported cell growth but that 4-n-alkylphenols, 4-tert-octylphenol, technical nonylphenol, 2-alkylphenols, and 3-alkylphenols did not. The rate of growth on 4-tert-butylphenol was much higher than that of growth on the other alkylphenols. Degradation experiments with various alkylphenols showed that strain TIK-1 cells grown on 4-tert-butylphenol could degrade 4-alkylphenols with variously sized and branched side chains (ethyl, n-propyl, isopropyl, n-butyl, sec-butyl, tert-butyl, n-pentyl, tert-pentyl, n-hexyl, n-heptyl, n-octyl, tert-octyl, n-nonyl, and branched nonyl) via a meta-cleavage pathway but not 2- or 3-alkylphenols. Along with the degradation of these alkylphenols, we detected methyl alkyl ketones that retained the structure of the original alkyl side chains. Strain TIK-1 may be useful in the bioremediation of environments polluted by 4-tert-butylphenol and various other 4-alkylphenols.