Characterisation of chlorinated-hydrocarbon-degrading genes of bacteria.
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1,2-dichloroethane (DCA) is one of the most widely used and produced chemicals of the modern world. It is used as a metal degreaser, solvent, chemical intermediate as well as a fuel additive. This carcinogen is toxic to both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and accidental spills and poor handling has resulted in contamination of the environment. Thus far several bacteria in the Northern hemisphere have been identified that are capable of utilizing this compound as a sole carbon and energy source. This report focuses on the isolation and characterization of bacterial isolates from the Southern hemisphere that are capable of degrading DCA as well as the global distribution of the DCA catabolic route. Samples obtained from waste water treatment plants were batch cultured in minimal medium containing DCA and repeatedly sub-cultured every five days over a 25 day period. A halogen release assay was performed in order to determine whether individual isolates possessed dehalogenase activity. Confirmation of DCA utilization by bacterial isolates positive for dehalogenase activity was done by sub-culturing back into minimal medium containing DCA. Enzyme activities were confirmed with cell free extracts using all of the intermediates in the proposed DCA degradative pathway and compared to a known DCA degrading microorganism. Biochemical tests and 16SrDNA sequencing indicated that all the South African isolates belonged to the genus Ancylobacter and were different from each other. Based on enzyme activities, it was found that the South African isolates may possess a similar degradative route as other DCA degrading microorganisms. Primers based on genes involved in DCA degradation were synthesized and PCR analysis was performed. It was found that all isolates possessed an identical hydrolytic dehalogenase gene whereas the other genes in the pathway could not be PCR amplified. Southern hybridization using probes based on known genes indicated that some of the isolates had homologous genes. Pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) analysis indicated that the five South African isolates of Ancylobacter aquaticus are distinguishable from each other. This study is the first report indicating that microbes from different geographical locations use similar metabolic routes for DCA degradation. The first gene of the pathway (dhlA) has undergone global distribution which may be due to widespread environmental contamination.