New ways to break an old bond: the bacterial carbon-phosphorus hydrolases and their role in biogeochemical phosphorus cycling

John Quinn, Anna Kulakova, N.A. Cooley, John McGrath

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105 Citations (Scopus)


Phosphonates are organophosphorus molecules that contain the highly stable C-P bond, rather than the more common, and more labile, C-O-P phosphate ester bond. They have ancient origins but their biosynthesis is widespread among more primitive organisms and their importance in the contemporary biosphere is increasingly recognized; for example phosphonate-P is believed to play a particularly significant role in the productivity of the oceans. The microbial degradation of phosphonates was originally thought to occur only under conditions of phosphate limitation, mediated exclusively by the poorly characterized C-P lyase multienzyme system, under Pho regulon control. However, more recent studies have demonstrated the Pho-independent mineralization by environmental bacteria of three of the most widely distributed biogenic phosphonates: 2-aminoethylphosphonic acid (ciliatine), phosphonoacetic acid, and 2-amino-3-phosphonopropionic acid (phosphonoalanine). The three phosphonohydrolases responsible have unique specificities and are members of separate enzyme superfamilies; their expression is regulated by distinct members of the LysR family of bacterial transcriptional regulators, for each of which the phosphonate substrate of the respective degradative operon serves as coinducer. Previously no organophosphorus compound was known to induce the enzymes required for its own degradation. Whole-genome and metagenome sequence analysis indicates that the genes encoding these newly described C-P hydrolases are distributed widely among prokaryotes. As they are able to function under conditions in which C-P lyases are inactive, the three enzymes may play a hitherto-unrecognized role in phosphonate breakdown in the environment and hence make a significant contribution to global biogeochemical P-cycling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2392-2400
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Microbiology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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