The biodegradation of phenols by a eukaryotic alga
Axenic cultures of Chiamydomonas ulvaensis [CCAP 11/58], Scenedesmus brasiliensis [CCAP 276/1 B] and Ochromonas danica [0CAP933/28] were screened for their ability to grow on and remove phenol from their incubation media. Neither C. ulvaensis nor S. brasiliensis removed the phenol substrate as rapidly as 0. danica which is a nutritionally versatile chrysophyte. 0. danica was found to grow on phenol and p-cresol as the sole C-source at concentrations up to 4mM in cultures grown in both photoheterotrophic and heterotrophic conditions. The alga would not grow on cresols or xylenols unless phenol was present. Oxygen uptake and turnover studies confirmed that the enzymes involved in phenolic catabolism were inducible and that the organism showed a decrease in activity resulting from the position and number of the methyl substituents on the aromatic ring. [U- 14C]Phenol was completely mineralised with some 65% of the 14C-label appearing as 14CO2, approximately 12% remaining in the aqueous medium and the rest accounted for in the biomass. Analysis of the biomass showed that 14C-label had been incorporated into the protein, nucleic acid and lipid fractions; phenol carbon is thus unequivocally assimilated by the alga. Phenol-grown cultures of 0. danica converted phenol to catechol which was further metabolised by the meta cleavage pathway. 2-Hydroxymuconic semialdehyde and pyruvate, characteristic products of meta cleavage, were found in incubations of catechol with cell-free extracts of phenol-grown cells together with the appropriate enzyme activities. This is , as far as I am aware, the first definitive identification of the meta cleavage pathway for aromatic ring degradation in a eukaryotic microorganism.