Due to the extensive use of chloroacetanilide herbicides over the past 60 years, bacteria have evolved catabolic pathways to mineralize these compounds. In the upstream catabolic pathway, chloroacetanilide herbicides are transformed into the two common metabolites 2-methyl-6-ethylaniline (MEA) and 2,6-diethylaniline (DEA) through N-dealkylation and amide hydrolysis. The pathway downstream of MEA is initiated by the hydroxylation of aromatic rings, followed by its conversion to a substrate for ring cleavage after several steps. Most of the key genes in the pathway have been identified. However, the genes involved in the initial hydroxylation step of MEA are still unknown. As a special aniline derivative, MEA cannot be transformed by the aniline dioxygenases that have been characterized. Sphingobium baderi DE-13 can completely degrade MEA and use it as a sole carbon source for growth. In this work, an MEA degradation-deficient mutant of S. baderi DE-13 was isolated. MEA catabolism genes were predicted through comparative genomic analysis. The results of genetic complementation and heterologous expression demonstrated that the products of meaX and meaY are responsible for the initial step of MEA degradation in S. baderi DE-13. MeaXY is a two-component flavoprotein monooxygenase system that catalyzes the hydroxylation of MEA and DEA using NADH and flavin mononucleotide (FMN) as cofactors. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analysis confirmed that MeaXY hydroxylates MEA and DEA at the para-position. Transcription of meaX was enhanced remarkably upon induction of MEA or DEA in S. baderi DE-13. Additionally, meaX and meaY were highly conserved among other MEA-degrading sphingomonads. This study fills a gap in our knowledge of the biochemical pathway that carries out mineralization of chloroacetanilide herbicides in sphingomonads. IMPORTANCE Much attention has been paid to the environmental fate of chloroacetanilide herbicides used for the past 60 years. Microbial degradation is considered an important mechanism in the degradation of these compounds. Bacterial degradation of chloroacetanilide herbicides has been investigated in many recent studies. Pure cultures or consortia able to mineralize these herbicides have been obtained. The catabolic pathway has been proposed, and most key genes involved have been identified. However, the genes responsible for the initiation step (from MEA to hydroxylated MEA or from DEA to hydroxylated DEA) of the downstream pathway have not been reported. The present study demonstrates that a two-component flavin-dependent monooxygenase system, MeaXY, catalyzes the para-hydroxylation of MEA or DEA in sphingomonads. Therefore, this work finds a missing link in the biochemical pathway that carries out the mineralization of chloroacetanilide herbicides in sphingomonads. Additionally, the results expand our understanding of the degradation of a special kind of aniline derivative. Copyright © 2017 American Society for Microbiology.
Journal: Applied and environmental microbiology