sp. strain CF600 can degrade phenol and some of its methylated derivatives via a plasmid (pVI150)-encoded pathway. The metabolic route involves hydroxylation by a multi-component phenol hydroxylase and a subsequent -cleavage pathway. All 15 structural genes involved are clustered in an operon that is regulated by a divergently transcribed transcriptional activator. The multi-component nature of the phenol hydroxylase is unusual since reactions of this type are usually accomplished by single component flavoproteins. We have isolated and analysed a number of marine bacterial isolates capable of degrading phenol and a range of other aromatic compounds as sole carbon and energy sources. Southern hybridization and enzyme assays were used to compare the catabolic pathways of these strains and of the archetypal phenol-degrader U, with respect to known catabolic genes encoded by CF600. All the strains tested that degraded phenol via a -cleavage pathway were found to have DNA highly homologous to each of the components of the multi-component phenol hydroxylase. Moreover, DNA of the same strains also strongly hybridized to probes specific for pVI150-encoded -pathway genes and the specific regulator of its catabolic operon. These results demonstrate conservation of structural and regulatory genes involved in aromatic catabolism within strains isolated from diverse geographical locations (UK, Norway and USA) and a range of habitats that include activated sludge, sea water and fresh-water mud.


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