SUMMARY: The products of condensing organic hydroxyl groups (ROH) with the mineral acids (hydrochloric, nitric, phosphoric and sulphuric) collectively constitute a major part of the output of the synthetic organic chemical industry, with a wide diversity of applications including surfactants, pesticides, herbicides, dyes, methylating agents, explosives and pharmaceuticals. Compounds containing similar or related structures also occur as natural products. Phosphate esters are, of course, exceptional for their ubiquity in the living world, ranging from the simple intermediary metabolites of glycolysis, through phospholipids, to the backbone of DNA. Sulphate esters too are abundant (Dodgson , 1982) and naturally occurring halogenated compounds are also being detected in increasing numbers (for examples, see Strunz, 1984; Engvild, 1986; Neidleman & Geigert, 1986; Harper & Hamilton, 1988). It is therefore no surprise that living organisms have evolved phosphatase (Boyer, 1971), sulphatase (Dodgson & Rose, 1975; Dodgson , 1982) and dehalogenase (Neilson, 1990; Hardman, 1991) enzyme systems for initiating biodegradation of such compounds by the removal of the mineral moiety. In marked contrast, we are unable to find any examples of naturally occurring nitrate esters, so that the introduction of such compounds into the environment during their industrial production and usage constitutes a true xenobiotic challenge to microorganisms. This raises intriguing questions about microbial capability for biotransformation/biodegradation of nitrate esters, not only from an academic viewpoint but also because of the wide industrial usage of these compounds and their likely impact on the environment.


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