Biodegradation is the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi.[a][2]

Yellow slime mold growing on a bin of wet paper


The process of biodegradation can be divided into three stages: biodeterioration, biofragmentation, and assimilation.[3] Biodeterioration is a surface-level degradation that modifies the mechanical, physical, and chemical properties of the material. This stage occurs when the material is exposed to abiotic factors in the outdoor environment and allows for further degradation by weakening the material's structure. Some abiotic factors that influence these initial changes are compression (mechanical), light, temperature, and chemicals in the environment.[3] While biodeterioration typically occurs as the first stage of biodegradation, it can in some cases be parallel to biofragmentation.[4]

Biofragmentation of a polymer is the lytic process in which bonds within a polymer are cleaved, generating oligomers and monomers in its place.[3] The steps taken to fragment these materials also differ based on the presence of oxygen in the system. The breakdown of materials by microorganisms when oxygen is present is aerobic digestion, and the breakdown of materials when is oxygen is not present is anaerobic digestion.[5] The main difference between these processes is that anaerobic reactions produce methane, while aerobic reactions do not (however, both reactions produce carbon dioxide, water, some type of residue, and a new biomass).[6] In addition, aerobic digestion typically occurs more rapidly than anaerobic digestion, while anaerobic digestion does a better job reducing the volume and mass of the material.[5] Due to anaerobic digestion's ability to reduce the volume and mass of waste materials and produce a natural gas, anaerobic digestion technology is widely used for waste management systems and as a source of local, renewable energy.[7]

The resulting products from biofragmentation are then integrated into microbial cells, this is the assimilation stage.[3] Some of the products from fragmentation are easily transported within the cell by membrane carriers. However, others still have to undergo biotransformation reactions to yield products that can then be transported inside the cell. Once inside the cell, the products enter catabolic pathways that either lead to the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) or elements of the cells structure.[3]

Aerobic biodegradition equation
Aerobic biodegradation formula
Anaerobic biodegradition
Anaerobic degradation formula

Factors affecting biodegradation rate

In practice, almost all chemical compounds and materials are subject to biodegradation processes. The significance, however, is in the relative rates of such processes, such as days, weeks, years or centuries. A number of factors determine the rate at which this degradation of organic compounds occurs. Factors include light, water, oxygen and temperature.[8] The degradation rate of many organic compounds is limited by their bioavailability, which is the rate at which a substance is absorbed into a system or made available at the site of physiological activity,[9] as compounds must be released into solution before organisms can degrade them.The rate of biodegradation can be measured in a number of ways. Respirometry tests can be used for aerobic microbes. First one places a solid waste sample in a container with microorganisms and soil, and then aerates the mixture. Over the course of several days, microorganisms digest the sample bit by bit and produce carbon dioxide – the resulting amount of CO2 serves as an indicator of degradation. Biodegradability can also be measured by anaerobic microbes and the amount of methane or alloy that they are able to produce.[10]

It’s important to note factors that effect biodegradation rates during product testing to ensure that the results produced are accurate and reliable. Several materials will test as being biodegradable under optimal conditions in a lab for approval but these results may not reflect real world outcomes where factors are more variable.[11] For example, a material may have tested as biodegrading at a high rate in the lab may not degrade at a high rate in a landfill because landfills often lack light, water, and microbial activity that are necessary for degradation to occur.[12] Thus, it is very important that there are standards for plastic biodegradable products, which have a large impact on the environment. The development and use of accurate standard test methods can help ensure that all plastics that are being produced and commercialized will actually biodegrade in natural environments.[13] One test that has been developed for this purpose is DINV 54900.[14]

Approximated time for compounds to biodegrade in a marine environment[15]
Product Time to Biodegrade
Paper towel 2–4 weeks
Newspaper 6 weeks
Apple core 2 months
Cardboard box 2 months
Wax coated milk carton 3 months
Cotton gloves 1–5 months
Wool gloves 1 year
Plywood 1–3 years
Painted wooden sticks 13 years
Plastic bags 10–20 years
Tin cans 50 years
Disposable diapers 50–100 years
Plastic bottle 100 years
Aluminium cans 200 years
Glass bottles Undetermined
Time-frame for common items to break down in a terrestrial environment[12]
Vegetables 5 days – 1 month
Paper 2–5 months
Cotton T-shirt 6 months
Orange peels 6 months
Tree leaves 1 year
Wool socks 1–5 years
Plastic-coated paper milk cartons 5 years
Leather shoes 25–40 years
Nylon fabric 30–40 years
Tin cans 50–100 years
Aluminium cans 80–100 years
Glass bottles 1 million years
Styrofoam cup 500 years to forever
Plastic bags 500 years to forever


The term Biodegradable Plastics refers to a material that maintains its mechanical strength during practical use but break down into low-weight compounds and non-toxic byproducts after their use.[16] This breakdown is made possible through an attack of microorganisms on the material, which is typically a non-water soluble polymer.[4] Such materials can be obtained through chemical synthesis, fermentation by microorganisms, and from chemically modified natural products.[17]

Plastics biodegrade at highly variable rates. PVC-based plumbing is selected for handling sewage because PVC resists biodegradation. Some packaging materials on the other hand are being developed that would degrade readily upon exposure to the environment.[18] Examples of synthetic polymers that biodegrade quickly include polycaprolactone, other polyesters and aromatic-aliphatic esters, due to their ester bonds being susceptible to attack by water. A prominent example is poly-3-hydroxybutyrate, the renewably derived polylactic acid, and the synthetic polycaprolactone. Others are the cellulose-based cellulose acetate and celluloid (cellulose nitrate).

Polylactid sceletal
Polylactic acid is an example of a plastic that biodegrades quickly.
Polylactid sceletal
Polylactic acid is an example of a plastic that biodegrades quickly.

Under low oxygen conditions plastics break down more slowly. The breakdown process can be accelerated in specially designed compost heap. Starch-based plastics will degrade within two to four months in a home compost bin, while polylactic acid is largely undecomposed, requiring higher temperatures.[19] Polycaprolactone and polycaprolactone-starch composites decompose slower, but the starch content accelerates decomposition by leaving behind a porous, high surface area polycaprolactone. Nevertheless, it takes many months.[20] In 2016, a bacterium named Ideonella sakaiensis was found to biodegrade PET.

Many plastic producers have gone so far even to say that their plastics are compostable, typically listing corn starch as an ingredient. However, these claims are questionable because the plastics industry operates under its own definition of compostable:

"that which is capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site such that the material is not visually distinguishable and breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass at a rate consistent with known compostable materials." (Ref: ASTM D 6002)[21]

The term "composting" is often used informally to describe the biodegradation of packaging materials. Legal definitions exist for compostability, the process that leads to compost. Four criteria are offered by the European Union:[22][23]

  1. Chemical composition: volatile matter and heavy metals as well as fluorine should be limited.
  2. Biodegradability: the conversion of >90% of the original material into CO2, water and minerals by biological processes within 6 months.
  3. Disintegrability: at least 90% of the original mass should be decomposed into particles that are able to pass through a 2x2 mm sieve.
  4. Quality: absence of toxic substances and other substances that impede composting.

Biodegradable technology

Now biodegradable technology has become a highly developed market with applications in product packaging, production, and medicine. The biodegradation of biomass offers some guidances.[24] Polyesters are known to biodegrade.[25]

Oxo-biodegradation is defined by CEN (the European Standards Organisation) as "degradation resulting from oxidative and cell-mediated phenomena, either simultaneously or successively." Whilst sometimes described as "oxo-fragmentable," and "oxo-degradable" these terms describe only the first or oxidative phase and should not be used for material which degrades by the process of oxo-biodegradation defined by CEN: the correct description is "oxo-biodegradable."

By combining plastic products with very large polymer molecules, which contain only carbon and hydrogen, with oxygen in the air, the product is rendered capable of decomposing in anywhere from a week to one to two years. This reaction occurs even without prodegradant additives but at a very slow rate. That is why conventional plastics, when discarded, persist for a long time in the environment. Oxo-biodegradable formulations catalyze and accelerate the biodegradation process but it takes considerable skill and experience to balance the ingredients within the formulations so as to provide the product with a useful life for a set period, followed by degradation and biodegradation.[26]

Biodegradable technology is especially utilized by the bio-medical community. Biodegradable polymers are classified into three groups: medical, ecological, and dual application, while in terms of origin they are divided into two groups: natural and synthetic.[16] The Clean Technology Group is exploiting the use of supercritical carbon dioxide, which under high pressure at room temperature is a solvent that can use biodegradable plastics to make polymer drug coatings. The polymer (meaning a material composed of molecules with repeating structural units that form a long chain) is used to encapsulate a drug prior to injection in the body and is based on lactic acid, a compound normally produced in the body, and is thus able to be excreted naturally. The coating is designed for controlled release over a period of time, reducing the number of injections required and maximizing the therapeutic benefit. Professor Steve Howdle states that biodegradable polymers are particularly attractive for use in drug delivery, as once introduced into the body they require no retrieval or further manipulation and are degraded into soluble, non-toxic by-products. Different polymers degrade at different rates within the body and therefore polymer selection can be tailored to achieve desired release rates.[27]

Other biomedical applications include the use of biodegradable, elastic shape-memory polymers. Biodegradable implant materials can now be used for minimally invasive surgical procedures through degradable thermoplastic polymers. These polymers are now able to change their shape with increase of temperature, causing shape memory capabilities as well as easily degradable sutures. As a result, implants can now fit through small incisions, doctors can easily perform complex deformations, and sutures and other material aides can naturally biodegrade after a completed surgery.[28]

Biodegradation vs. composting

There is no universal definition for biodegradation and there are various definitions of composting, which has led to much confusion between the terms. They are often lumped together; however, they do not have the same meaning. Biodegradation is the naturally-occurring breakdown of materials by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi or other biological activity.[29] Composting is a human-driven process in which biodegradation occurs under a specific set of circumstances.[30] The predominant difference between the two is that one process is naturally-occurring and one is human-driven.

Biodegradable material is capable of decomposing without an oxygen source (anaerobically) into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass, but the timeline is not very specifically defined. Similarly, compostable material breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass; however, compostable material also breaks down into inorganic compounds. The process for composting is more specifically defined, as it controlled by humans. Essentially, composting is an accelerated biodegradation process due to optimized circumstances.[31] Additionally, the end product of composting not only returns to its previous state, but also generates and adds beneficial microorganisms to the soil called humus. This organic matter can be used in gardens and on farms to help grow healthier plants in the future.[32] Composting more consistently occurs within a shorter time frame since it is a more defined process and is expedited by human intervention. Biodegradation can occur in different time frames under different circumstances, but is meant to occur naturally without human intervention.

Organic Waste Disposal Streams.pdf
This figure represents the different paths of disposal for organic waste.[33]

Even within composting, there are different circumstances under which this can occur. The two main types of composting are at-home versus commercial. Both produce healthy soil to be reused - the main difference lies in what materials are able to go into the process.[31] At-home composting is mostly used for food scraps and excess garden materials, such as weeds. Commercial composting is capable of breaking down more complex plant-based products, such as corn-based plastics and larger pieces of material, like tree branches. Commercial composting begins with a manual breakdown of the materials using a grinder or other machine to initiate the process. Because at-home composting usually occurs on a smaller scale and does not involve large machinery, these materials would not fully decompose in at-home composting. Furthermore, one study has compared and contrasted home and industrial composting, concluding that there are advantages and disadvantages to both.[34]

The following studies provide examples in which composting has been defined as a subset of biodegradation in a scientific context. The first study, "Assessment of Biodegradability of Plastics Under Simulated Composting Conditions in a Laboratory Test Setting," clearly examines composting as a set of circumstances that falls under the category of degradation.[35] Additionally, this next study looked at the biodegradation and composting effects of chemically and physically crosslinked polylactic acid.[36] Notably discussing composting and biodegrading as two distinct terms. The third and final study reviews European standardization of biodegradable and compostable material in the packaging industry, again using the terms separately.[37]

The distinction between these terms is crucial because waste management confusion leads to improper disposal of materials by people on a daily basis. Biodegradation technology has led to massive improvements in how we dispose of waste; there now exist trash, recycling, and compost bins in order to optimize the disposal process. However, if these waste streams are commonly and frequently confused, then the disposal process is not at all optimized.[38] Biodegradable and compostable materials have been developed to ensure more of human waste is able to breakdown and return to its previous state, or in the case of composting even add nutrients to the ground.[39] When a compostable product is thrown out as opposed to composted and sent to a landfill, these inventions and efforts are wasted. Therefore, it is important for average citizens to understand the difference between these terms so that materials can be disposed of properly and efficiently.

Environmental and social effects

Plastic pollution from illegal dumping poses health risks to wildlife. Animals often mistake plastics for food, resulting in intestinal entanglement. Slow-degrading chemicals, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), nonylphenol (NP), and pesticides also found in plastics, can release into environments and subsequently also be ingested by wildlife.[40]

Rachel Carson, a notable environmentalist in the 1960s, provided one of the first key studies on the consequences associated with chemical ingestion in wildlife, specifically birds. In her work Silent Spring, she wrote on DDT, a pesticide commonly used in human agricultural activities. Birds that ate the tainted bugs, Carson found, were more likely to produce eggs with thin and weak shells.[41]

These chemicals also play a role in human health, as consumption of tainted food (in processes called biomagnification and bioaccumulation) has been linked to issues such as cancers,[42] neurological dysfunction,[43] and hormonal changes. A well-known example of biomagnification impacting health in recent times is the increased exposure to dangerously high levels of mercury in fish, which can affect sex hormones in humans.[44]

In efforts to remediate the damages done by slow-degrading plastics, detergents, metals, and other pollutants created by humans, economic costs have become a concern. Marine litter in particular is notably difficult to quanitfy and review.[45] Researchers at the World Trade Institute estimate that cleanup initiatives' cost (specifically in ocean ecosystems) has hit close to thirteen billion dollars a year.[46] The main concern stems from marine environments, with the biggest cleanup efforts centering around garbage patches in the ocean. In 2017, a garbage patch the size of Mexico was found in the Pacific Ocean. It is estimated to be upwards of a million square miles in size. While the patch contains more obvious examples of litter (plastic bottles, cans, and bags), tiny microplastics are nearly impossible to clean up.[47] National Geographic reports that even more non-biodegradable materials are finding their way into vulnerable environments - nearly thirty-eight million pieces a year.[48]

Materials that have not degraded can also serve as shelter for invasive species, such as tube worms and barnacles. When the ecosystem changes in response to the invasive species, resident species and the natural balance of resources, genetic diversity, and species richness is altered.[49] These factors may support local economies in way of hunting and aquaculture, which suffer in response to the change.[50] Similarly, coastal communities which rely heavily on ecotourism lose revenue thanks to a buildup of pollution, as their beaches or shores are no longer desirable to travelers. The World Trade Institute also notes that the communities who often feel most of the effects of poor biodegradation are poorer countries without the means to pay for their cleanup.[46] In a positive feedback loop effect, they in turn have trouble controlling their own pollution sources.[51]

Etymology of "biodegradable"

The first known use of biodegradable in a biological context was in 1959 when it was employed to describe the breakdown of material into innocuous components by microorganisms.[52] Now biodegradable is commonly associated with environmentally friendly products that are part of the earth's innate cycles and capable of decomposing back into natural elements.

See also


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Standards by ASTM International

  • D5210- Standard Test Method for Determining the Anaerobic Biodegradation of Plastic Materials in the Presence of Municipal Sewage Sludge
  • D5526- Standard Test Method for Determining Anaerobic Biodegradation of Plastic Materials Under Accelerated Landfill Conditions
  • D5338- Standard Test Method for Determining Aerobic Biodegradation of Plastic Materials Under Controlled Composting Conditions, Incorporating Thermophilic Temperatures
  • D5511- Standard Test Method for Determining Anaerobic Biodegradation of Plastic Materials Under High-Solids Anaerobic-Digestion Conditions
  • D5864- Standard Test Method for Determining Aerobic Aquatic Biodegradation of Lubricants or Their Components
  • D5988- Standard Test Method for Determining Aerobic Biodegradation of Plastic Materials in Soil
  • D6139- Standard Test Method for Determining the Aerobic Aquatic Biodegradation of Lubricants or Their Components Using the Gledhill Shake Flask
  • D6006- Standard Guide for Assessing Biodegradability of Hydraulic Fluids
  • D6340- Standard Test Methods for Determining Aerobic Biodegradation of Radiolabeled Plastic Materials in an Aqueous or Compost Environment
  • D6691- Standard Test Method for Determining Aerobic Biodegradation of Plastic Materials in the Marine Environment by a Defined Microbial Consortium or Natural Sea Water Inoculum
  • D6731-Standard Test Method for Determining the Aerobic, Aquatic Biodegradability of Lubricants or Lubricant Components in a Closed Respirometer
  • D6954- Standard Guide for Exposing and Testing Plastics that Degrade in the Environment by a Combination of Oxidation and Biodegradation
  • D7044- Standard Specification for Biodegradable Fire Resistant Hydraulic Fluids
  • D7373-Standard Test Method for Predicting Biodegradability of Lubricants Using a Bio-kinetic Model
  • D7475- Standard Test Method for Determining the Aerobic Degradation and Anaerobic Biodegradation of Plastic Materials under Accelerated Bioreactor Landfill Conditions
  • D7665- Standard Guide for Evaluation of Biodegradable Heat Transfer Fluids

External links

Anaerobic respiration

Anaerobic respiration is respiration using electron acceptors other than molecular oxygen (O2). Although oxygen is not the final electron acceptor, the process still uses a respiratory electron transport chain.In aerobic organisms undergoing respiration, electrons are shuttled to an electron transport chain, and the final electron acceptor is oxygen. Molecular oxygen is a highly oxidizing agent and, therefore, is an excellent electron acceptor. In anaerobes, other less-oxidizing substances such as sulphate (SO42−), nitrate (NO3−), sulphur (S), or fumarate are used. These terminal electron acceptors have smaller reduction potentials than O2, meaning that less energy is released per oxidized molecule. Therefore, generally speaking, anaerobic respiration is less efficient than aerobic.


Bioaccumulation is the gradual accumulation of substances, such as pesticides, or other chemicals in an organism. Bioaccumulation occurs when an organism absorbs a substance at a rate faster than that at which the substance is lost by catabolism and excretion. Thus, the longer the biological half-life of a toxic substance, the greater the risk of chronic poisoning, even if environmental levels of the toxin are not very high. Bioaccumulation, for example in fish, can be predicted by models. Hypotheses for molecular size cutoff criteria for use as bioaccumulation potential indicators are not supported by data. Biotransformation can strongly modify bioaccumulation of chemicals in an organism.Bioconcentration is a related but more specific term, referring to uptake and accumulation of a substance from water alone. By contrast, bioaccumulation refers to uptake from all sources combined (e.g. water, food, air, etc.).

Biodegradable additives

Biodegradable additives are additives that enhance the biodegradation of polymers by allowing microorganisms to utilize the carbon within the polymer chain itself.

Biodegradable additives attract microorganisms to the polymer through quorum sensing after biofilm creation on the plastic product. Additives are generally in masterbatch formation that use carrier resins such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene or polyethylene terephthalate.

Biodegradable bag

Biodegradable bags are bags that are capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.Every year approximately 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide.


Bioplastics are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, straw, woodchips, food waste, etc. Bioplastic can be made from agricultural by-products and also from used plastic bottles and other containers using microorganisms. Common plastics, such as fossil-fuel plastics (also called petrobased polymers) are derived from petroleum or natural gas. Not all bioplastics are biodegradable nor biodegrade more readily than commodity fossil-fuel derived plastics. Bioplastics are usually derived from sugar derivatives, including starch, cellulose, and lactic acid. As of 2014, bioplastics represented approximately 0.2% of the global polymer market (300 million tons).


Bioremediation is a process used to treat contaminated media, including water, soil and subsurface material, by altering environmental conditions to stimulate growth of microorganisms and degrade the target pollutants. In many cases, bioremediation is less expensive and more sustainable than other remediation alternatives. Biological treatment is a similar approach used to treat wastes including wastewater, industrial waste and solid waste.

Most bioremediation processes involve oxidation-reduction reactions where either an electron acceptor (commonly oxygen) is added to stimulate oxidation of a reduced pollutant (e.g. hydrocarbons) or an electron donor (commonly an organic substrate) is added to reduce oxidized pollutants (nitrate, perchlorate, oxidized metals, chlorinated solvents, explosives and propellants). In both these approaches, additional nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and pH buffers may be added to optimize conditions for the microorganisms. In some cases, specialized microbial cultures are added (bioaugmentation) to further enhance biodegradation. Some examples of bioremediation related technologies are phytoremediation, mycoremediation, bioventing, bioleaching, landfarming, bioreactor, composting, bioaugmentation, rhizofiltration, and biostimulation.


Biotransformation is the chemical modification (or modifications) made by an organism on a chemical compound. If this modification ends in mineral compounds like CO2, NH4+, or H2O, the biotransformation is called mineralisation.

Biotransformation means chemical alteration of chemicals such as nutrients, amino acids, toxins, and drugs in the body. It is also needed to render non-polar compounds polar so that they are not reabsorbed in renal tubules and are excreted. Biotransformation of xenobiotics can dominate toxicokinetics and the metabolites may reach higher concentrations in organisms than their parent compounds. Recently its application is seen as an efficient, cost effective, and easily applicable approach for the valorization of agricultural wastes with potentials of enhancing existing bioactive components and synthesis of new compounds.

Drug metabolism

Drug metabolism is the metabolic breakdown of drugs by living organisms, usually through specialized enzymatic systems. More generally, xenobiotic metabolism (from the Greek xenos "stranger" and biotic "related to living beings") is the set of metabolic pathways that modify the chemical structure of xenobiotics, which are compounds foreign to an organism's normal biochemistry, such as any drug or poison. These pathways are a form of biotransformation present in all major groups of organisms, and are considered to be of ancient origin. These reactions often act to detoxify poisonous compounds (although in some cases the intermediates in xenobiotic metabolism can themselves cause toxic effects). The study of drug metabolism is called pharmacokinetics.

The metabolism of pharmaceutical drugs is an important aspect of pharmacology and medicine. For example, the rate of metabolism determines the duration and intensity of a drug's pharmacologic action. Drug metabolism also affects multidrug resistance in infectious diseases and in chemotherapy for cancer, and the actions of some drugs as substrates or inhibitors of enzymes involved in xenobiotic metabolism are a common reason for hazardous drug interactions. These pathways are also important in environmental science, with the xenobiotic metabolism of microorganisms determining whether a pollutant will be broken down during bioremediation, or persist in the environment. The enzymes of xenobiotic metabolism, particularly the glutathione S-transferases are also important in agriculture, since they may produce resistance to pesticides and herbicides.

Drug metabolism is divided into three phases. In phase I, enzymes such as cytochrome P450 oxidases introduce reactive or polar groups into xenobiotics. These modified compounds are then conjugated to polar compounds in phase II reactions. These reactions are catalysed by transferase enzymes such as glutathione S-transferases. Finally, in phase III, the conjugated xenobiotics may be further processed, before being recognised by efflux transporters and pumped out of cells. Drug metabolism often converts lipophilic compounds into hydrophilic products that are more readily excreted.

Environmental impact of biodiesel

The environmental impact of biodiesel is diverse.


Lignin is a class of complex organic polymers that form key structural materials in the support tissues of vascular plants and some algae. Lignins are particularly important in the formation of cell walls, especially in wood and bark, because they lend rigidity and do not rot easily. Chemically, lignins are cross-linked phenolic polymers.

Marsh gas

Marsh gas, swamp gas and bog gas is a mixture of methane, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide, produced naturally within some geographical marshes, swamps, and bogs.

The surface of marshes, swamps and bogs is initially porous vegetation that rots to form a crust that prevents oxygen from reaching the organic material trapped below. That is the condition that allows anaerobic digestion and fermentation of any plant or animal material which incidentally also produces methane.

In some cases there is sufficient heat, fuel and oxygen to allow spontaneous combustion and underground fires to smolder for some considerable time as occurred at a natural reserve in Spain. Such fires can cause surface subsidence presenting an unpredictable physical hazard and as well as environmental changes or damage to the local environment and the ecosystem it supports.


A mesophile is an organism that grows best in moderate temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, typically between 20 and 45 °C (68 and 113 °F). The term is mainly applied to microorganisms. Organisms that prefer extreme environments are known as extremophiles. Mesophiles have diverse classifications, belonging to two domains: Bacteria, Archaea, and to kingdom Fungi of domain Eucarya. Mesophiles belonging to the domain Bacteria can either be gram-positive or gram-negative. Gram-positive bacteria have a cell layer made of peptidoglycan and stains purple. Gram-negative bacteria also contains peptidoglycan, yet the layer is extremely thin and stains red or pink. Oxygen requirements for mesophiles are not just confined to aerobic or anaerobic. There are three basic shapes of mesophiles: coccus, bacillus, and spiral.

Microbial biodegradation

Microbial biodegradation is the use of bioremediation and biotransformation methods to harness the naturally occurring ability of microbial xenobiotic metabolism to degrade, transform or accumulate environmental pollutants, including hydrocarbons (e.g. oil), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heterocyclic compounds (such as pyridine or quinoline), pharmaceutical substances, radionuclides and metals.

Interest in the microbial biodegradation of pollutants has intensified in recent years, and recent major methodological breakthroughs have enabled detailed genomic, metagenomic, proteomic, bioinformatic and other high-throughput analyses of environmentally relevant microorganisms, providing new insights into biodegradative pathways and the ability of organisms to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Biological processes play a major role in the removal of contaminants and take advantage of the catabolic versatility of microorganisms to degrade or convert such compounds. In environmental microbiology, genome-based global studies are increasing the understanding of metabolic and regulatory networks, as well as providing new information on the evolution of degradation pathways and molecular adaptation strategies to changing environmental conditions.


OXO-biodegradation is biodegradation as defined by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) in CEN/TR 1535–2006, as "degradation resulting from oxidative and cell-mediated phenomena, either simultaneously or successively". This degradation is sometimes termed "OXO-degradable", but this latter term describes only the first or oxidative phase of degradation and should not be used for material which degrades by the process of OXO-biodegradation as defined by CEN. The correct term is "OXO-biodegradable".


Oxazines are heterocyclic compounds containing one oxygen and one nitrogen atom in a doubly unsaturated six-membered ring. Isomers exist depending on the relative position of the heteroatoms and relative position of the double bonds.

By extension, the derivatives are also referred to as oxazines; examples include ifosfamide and morpholine (tetrahydro-1,4-oxazine). A commercially available dihydro-1,3-oxazine is a reagent in the Meyers synthesis of aldehydes. Fluorescent dyes such as Nile red and Nile blue are based on the aromatic benzophenoxazine. Cinnabarine and cinnabaric acid are two naturally occurring dioxazines, being derived from biodegradation of tryptophan.

Phenylpropanoids metabolism

The biosynthesis of phenylpropanoids involves a number of enzymes.

Polyethylene terephthalate

Polyethylene terephthalate (sometimes written poly(ethylene terephthalate)), commonly abbreviated PET, PETE, or the obsolete PETP or PET-P, is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family and is used in fibres for clothing, containers for liquids and foods, thermoforming for manufacturing, and in combination with glass fibre for engineering resins.

It may also be referred to by the brand names Terylene in the UK, Lavsan in Russia and the former Soviet Union, and Dacron in the US.

The majority of the world's PET production is for synthetic fibres (in excess of 60%), with bottle production accounting for about 30% of global demand. In the context of textile applications, PET is referred to by its common name, polyester, whereas the acronym PET is generally used in relation to packaging. Polyester makes up about 18% of world polymer production and is the fourth-most-produced polymer after polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

PET consists of polymerized units of the monomer ethylene terephthalate, with repeating (C10H8O4) units. PET is commonly recycled, and has the number "1" as its resin identification code (RIC).

Depending on its processing and thermal history, polyethylene terephthalate may exist both as an amorphous (transparent) and as a semi-crystalline polymer. The semicrystalline material might appear transparent (particle size less than 500 nm) or opaque and white (particle size up to a few micrometers) depending on its crystal structure and particle size.

The monomer bis(2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalate can be synthesized by the esterification reaction between terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol with water as a byproduct, or by transesterification reaction between ethylene glycol and dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) with methanol as a byproduct. Polymerization is through a polycondensation reaction of the monomers (done immediately after esterification/transesterification) with water as the byproduct.


Polystyrene (PS) is a synthetic aromatic hydrocarbon polymer made from the monomer styrene. Polystyrene can be solid or foamed. General-purpose polystyrene is clear, hard, and rather brittle. It is an inexpensive resin per unit weight. It is a rather poor barrier to oxygen and water vapour and has a relatively low melting point. Polystyrene is one of the most widely used plastics, the scale of its production being several million tonnes per year. Polystyrene can be naturally transparent, but can be coloured with colourants. Uses include protective packaging (such as packing peanuts and CD and DVD cases), containers, lids, bottles, trays, tumblers, disposable cutlery and in the making of models.

As a thermoplastic polymer, polystyrene is in a solid (glassy) state at room temperature but flows if heated above about 100 °C, its glass transition temperature. It becomes rigid again when cooled. This temperature behaviour is exploited for extrusion (as in Styrofoam) and also for molding and vacuum forming, since it can be cast into molds with fine detail.

Polystyrene is slow to biodegrade. It is accumulating as a form of litter in the outdoor environment, particularly along shores and waterways, especially in its foam form, and in the Pacific Ocean.


A thermophile is an organism—a type of extremophile—that thrives at relatively high temperatures, between 41 and 122 °C (106 and 252 °F). Many thermophiles are archaea. Thermophilic eubacteria are suggested to have been among the earliest bacteria.Thermophiles are found in various geothermally heated regions of the Earth, such as hot springs like those in Yellowstone National Park (see image) and deep sea hydrothermal vents, as well as decaying plant matter, such as peat bogs and compost.

Thermophiles can survive at high temperatures, whereas other bacteria would be damaged and sometimes killed if exposed to the same temperatures.

The enzymes in thermophiles necessarily function at high temperatures. Some of these enzymes are used in molecular biology, for example, heat-stable DNA polymerases for PCR), and in washing agents.

"Thermophile" is derived from the Greek: θερμότητα (thermotita), meaning heat, and Greek: φίλια (philia), love.

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