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Published by Andrew Singer
The chemical ecology of pollutant biodegradation: bioremediation and phytoremediation from mechanistic and ecological perspectives
The chemical ecology of pollutant biodegradation: bioremediation and phytoremediation from mechanistic and ecological perspectives

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Andrew Singer on Jul 01, 2008
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1
THE CHEMICAL ECOLOGY OF POLLUTANTBIODEGRADATION
 Bioremediation and phytoremediation from mechanistic and ecological perspectives
ANDREW C SINGER
Centre for Ecology & Hydrology–Oxford, Mansfield Rd, Oxford OX13SR, United Kingdom–email: acsi@ceh.ac.uk 
Introduction
As the yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur returned to the south coast of Britain inearly 2005 after a record 71-day solo circumnavigation of the globe on a trimaran, shenoted pointedly, "It's funny when you smell the land and you have not smelled it for two months." MacArthur’s comment reflects the multitude of odours originating from
terra firma
and highlights an important and underappreciated feature of our world—adizzying abundance and diversity of chemicals surround us and in some subtle, as wellas some very direct ways, dictate the actions and reactions of all life.Among the numerous sources of chemicals in our environment, molecules of plantorigin are arguably the most abundant and best characterised. This chapter aims tohighlight the ecological functions of plant-derived chemicals and discuss their roles in both multi-trophic interactions and (pollutant-degrading) enzyme evolution. Evidenceto support these positions has largely been generated in the past decade and will bereviewed in the later part of the chapter.Rhizodeposition, the release of carbon compounds from living plant roots into thesurrounding soil, is dominated by low molecular mass solutes such as sugars, aminoacids and organic acids. There are numerous studies which aim to understand theregulation and ecological significance of rhizodeposition, for which the reader is
 
 
Figure 1. Typical skeletal backbones for the majority of secondary plant metabolites.
Although referred to as ‘secondary metabolites,’ implying a function of onlysecoyal Commission on Environmental Pollutiondirected to three excellent reviews [1-3]. Although rhizodeposition plays a central rolein establishing and sustaining a soil system, this chapter will focus on a class of compounds, secondary plant metabolites (SPMe), that are nearly four-orders of magnitude more diverse than the typical rhizodeposits. Over 100 000 low-molecular-mass SPMe have been described with an estimated 400 000 yet to be discovered [4].Many of these SPMe contain one of the following chemical structural backbones:isoprene, phenylpropene, alkaloid or fatty acid/polyketide (Figure 1) [5].
NN
 
OOH
 Isoprene PhenylpropeneAlkaloid Fatty acid/polyketideondary importance to the plant, SPMe fulfill a range of vital functions: (1)antimicrobial activity; (2) insect and microbial attraction; (3) insect and microbialdeterrent; (4) plant-plant signal; (5) stress response; and (6) germination and growthinhibition [6].The volatile low-molecular mass SPMe have a range of functional groups(hydrocarbons, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, ethers and esters), which play integralroles in how plants interact with their environment. Volatile emissions from flowersand fruits, for example, provide clues to animals, pollinators and seed disseminators,while those from vegetative tissues contribute to plant defence systems by repellingmicroorganisms and animals or attracting herbivore predators, thereby protecting the plant through tritrophic interactions [7].THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEMThe Twenty-Fourth Report by the R stated that there are between 30 000 and 100 000 chemicals on the market contributingannually to $50 billion and $1.7 trillion chemical industries in the United Kingdom andUnited States, respectively (2002 estimates) [8]. Every year, approaching 2000 novelxenobiotic chemicals are added to this list, the vast majority of which have not beentested for even the most basic indications of environmental hazard. It is now recognisedthat this policy has been responsible for a number of environmental catastrophes suchas: (1) reproduction failures in songbirds resulting from the organochlorine pesticide4,4'-(2,2,2-trichloroethane
-1
,1-diyl)bis(chlorobenzene) (DDT) which was highlighted byRachel Carson’s landmark book,
Silent Spring
in 1962 [9]; (2) bioaccumulation of the

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