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Detoxification of vinyl chloride to ethene coupled to growth of an anaerobic bacterium


Tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) are ideal solvents for numerous applications, and their widespread use makes them prominent groundwater pollutants. Even more troubling, natural biotic and abiotic processes acting on these solvents lead to the accumulation of toxic intermediates (such as dichloroethenes) and carcinogenic intermediates (such as vinyl chloride)1,2,3,4. Vinyl chloride was found in at least 496 of the 1,430 National Priorities List sites identified by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and its precursors PCE and TCE are present in at least 771 and 852 of these sites, respectively5. Here we describe an unusual, strictly anaerobic bacterium that destroys dichloroethenes and vinyl chloride as part of its energy metabolism, generating environmentally benign products (biomass, ethene and inorganic chloride). This organism might be useful for cleaning contaminated subsurface environments and restoring drinking-water reservoirs.

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Figure 1: Micrographs of isolate BAV1.
Figure 2: VC-dependent growth of isolate BAV1.

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Electron micrographs were obtained by R. P. Apkarian at the Integrated Microscopy and Microanalytical Facility at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. This work was supported by the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, and by a National Science Foundation CAREER award to F.E.L.

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Correspondence to Frank E. Löffler.

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He, J., Ritalahti, K., Yang, KL. et al. Detoxification of vinyl chloride to ethene coupled to growth of an anaerobic bacterium. Nature 424, 62–65 (2003).

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