Degradation of dimethyl isophthalate (DMI) and dimethyl phthalate ester (DMPE) was investigated using microorganisms isolated from mangrove sediment of Hong Kong Mai Po Nature Reserve. One enrichment culture was capable of utilizing DMI as the sole source of carbon and energy, but none of the bacteria in the enrichment culture was capable of degrading DMI alone. In co-culture of two bacteria, degradation was observed proceeding through monomethyl isophthalate (MMI) ester and isophthalic acid (IPA) before the aromatic ring opening. Using DMI as the sole carbon and energy source, Klebsiella oxytoca Sc and Methylobacterium mesophilicum Sr degraded DMI through the biochemical cooperation. The initial hydrolytic reaction of the ester bond was by K. oxytoca Sc and the next step of transformation was by M. mesophilicum Sr, and IPA was degraded by both of them. In another investigation, a novel bacterium, strain MPsc, was isolated for degradation of dimethyl phthalate ester (DMPE) also from the mangrove sediment. On the basis of phenotypic, biochemical and 16S rDNA gene sequence analyses, the strain MPsc should be considered as a new bacterium at the genus level (8% differences). This strain, together with a Rhodococcus zopfii isolated from the same mangrove sediment, was able to degrade DMPE aerobically. The consortium consisting of the two species degraded 450mg/l DMPE within 3 days as the sole source of carbon and energy, but none of the individual species alone was able to transform DMPE. Furthermore, the biochemical degradation pathway proceeded through monomethyl phthalate (MMP), phthalic acid (PA) and then protocatechuate before aromatic ring cleavage. Our results suggest that degradation of complex organic compounds including DMI and DMPE may be carried out by several members of microorganisms working together in the natural environments.

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