Trichloroethylene Biodegradation by a Methane-Oxidizing Bacterium
Trichloroethylene (TCE), a common groundwater contaminant, is a suspected carcinogen that is highly resistant to aerobic biodegradation. An aerobic, methane-oxidizing bacterium was isolated that degrades TCE in pure culture at concentrations commonly observed in contaminated groundwater. Strain 46-1, a type I methanotrophic bacterium, degraded TCE if grown on methane or methanol, producing CO2 and water-soluble products. Gas chromatography and 14C radiotracer techniques were used to determine the rate, methane dependence, and mechanism of TCE biodegradation. TCE biodegradation by strain 46-1 appears to be a cometabolic process that occurs when the organism is actively metabolizing a suitable growth substrate such as methane or methanol. It is proposed that TCE biodegradation by methanotrophs occurs by formation of TCE epoxide, which breaks down spontaneously in water to form dichloroacetic and glyoxylic acids and one-carbon products.