Implications of microbial adaptation for the assessment of environmental persistence of chemicals

Baptiste A.J. Poursat*, Rob J.M. van Spanning, Pim de Voogt, John R. Parsons

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Persistency of organic chemicals is a key property in their environmental risk assessment. Information on persistency is often derived from the results of biodegradability screening tests such as the ready biodegradability tests (RBTs). RBTs are, however, not designed for this purpose and suffer from several problems that lead to a high variability of the results and, hence, to difficulties in their interpretation. The origin and exposure history of the inocula used for biodegradability testing can lead to highly variable outcomes. Microbial adaptation to chemicals and its impact on biodegradation needs further investigation in order to have a better understanding of their effects on persistency assessments of chemicals. It is well described that microbial adaptation stimulates biodegradation of organic chemicals. Several mechanisms responsible for these phenomena have been described, amongst which are i) shifts in community composition or abundances, ii) mutations within populations, iii) horizontal gene transfer or iv) recombination events. These adaptation processes may well be mimicked under laboratory conditions, but the outcome remains difficult to predict as we lack a fundamental understanding of the adaptive responses. This review aims to bring together our current knowledge regarding microbial adaptation and its implication for the testing of biodegradation of chemicals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2220-2255
Number of pages36
JournalCritical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Adaptation
  • biodegradability testing
  • biodegradation
  • microbial community
  • organic pollutants
  • persistence


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