Potential of Microbial Communities to Perform Dehalogenation Processes in Natural and Anthropogenically Modified Environments—A Metagenomic Study

Pola Sylwana Łomża-Kalinowska, Tomasz Krucoń, Agnieszka Tabernacka

Halogenated organic compounds (HOCs) pose a serious problem for the environment. Many are highly toxic and accumulate both in soil and in organisms. Their biological transformation takes place by dehalogenation, in which the halogen substituents are detached from the carbon in the organic compound by enzymes produced by microorganisms. This increases the compounds’ water solubility and bioavailability, reduces toxicity, and allows the resulting compound to become more susceptible to biodegradation. The microbial halogen cycle in soil is an important part of global dehalogenation processes. The aim of the study was to examine the potential of microbial communities inhabiting natural and anthropogenically modified environments to carry out the dehalogenation process. The potential of microorganisms was assessed by analyzing the metagenomes from a natural environment (forest soils) and from environments subjected to anthropopression (agricultural soil and sludge from wastewater treatment plants). Thirteen genes encoding enzymes with dehalogenase activity were identified in the metagenomes of both environments, among which, 2-haloacid dehalogenase and catechol 2,3-dioxygenase were the most abundant genes. Comparative analysis, based on comparing taxonomy, identified genes, total halogens content and content of DDT derivatives, demonstrated the ability of microorganisms to transform HOCs in both environments, indicating the presence of these compounds in the environment for a long period of time and the adaptive need to develop mechanisms for their detoxification. Metagenome analyses and comparative analyses indicate the genetic potential of microorganisms of both environments to carry out dehalogenation processes, including dehalogenation of anthropogenic HOCs.

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