Department of Biochemistry & Microbiology
59 Dudley Road, Foran Hall
School of Environmental & Biological Sciences
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8520
Visit Dr. Zylstra's Lab
Molecular and biochemical basis for microbial aromatic hydrocarbon degradation
Research in my laboratory is directed toward understanding the mechanisms by which different bacterial strains utilize aromatic and aliphatic compounds as carbon and energy sources. Projects in the laboratory emphasize the use of molecular genetic tools in the analysis of gene (and protein) evolution, the regulation of gene expression, the identification of intermediate compounds in catabolic pathways, and the functional analysis of the enzymes involved. The primary theme for projects in the laboratory is the examination of microbial diversity and how this affects the degradation of aromatic compounds in the environment. For instance, different bacterial strains may utilize different biochemical pathways for the degradation of the same aromatic compound. In contrast, different bacterial strains may degrade an aromatic compound by the same catabolic pathway but possess genes that have diverged widely in their nucleotide sequence. This diversity in nucleotide sequence also plays a role in the specificity and activity of the enzymes produced. Research thus focuses on a detailed biochemical, physiological, and molecular genetic investigation and comparison of different model catabolic pathways in several bacterial genera. The two main areas of emphasis are the identification of new catabolic pathways or novel genes for known catabolic pathways and the development of new tools for the rapid cloning and identification of genes involved in catabolic transformations. The laboratory is currently focusing on the degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by Sphingomonas. Comamonas. and Mycobacterium strains; the degradation of nitrophenols and nitrobenzoates by several different Pseudomonas species and an Arthrobacter species; the degradation of phthalates by P. cepacia., C. testosteroni, and Acinetobacter strains; and the degradation of alkanes by Pseudomonas. Acinetobacter, and several uncharacterized isolates.