New concepts in the evaluation of biodegradation/persistence of chemical substances using a microbial inoculum

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The European REACH Regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of CHemical substances) implies, among other things, the evaluation of the biodegradability of chemical substances produced by industry. A large set of test methods is available including detailed information on the appropriate conditions for testing. However, the inoculum used for these tests constitutes a "black box." If biodegradation is achievable from the growth of a small group of specific microbial species with the substance as the only carbon source, the result of the test depends largely on the cell density of this group at "time zero." If these species are relatively rare in an inoculum that is normally used, the likelihood of inoculating a test with sufficient specific cells becomes a matter of probability. Normally this probability increases with total cell density and with the diversity of species in the inoculum. Furthermore the history of the inoculum, e.g., a possible pre-exposure to the test substance or similar substances will have a significant influence on the probability. A high probability can be expected for substances that are widely used and regularly released into the environment, whereas a low probability can be expected for new xenobiotic substances that have not yet been released into the environment. Be that as it may, once the inoculum sample contains sufficient specific degraders, the performance of the biodegradation will follow a typical S shaped growth curve which depends on the specific growth rate under laboratory conditions, the so called F/M ratio (ratio between food and biomass) and the more or less toxic recalcitrant, but possible, metabolites. Normally regulators require the evaluation of the growth curve using a simple approach such as half-time. Unfortunately probability and biodegradation half-time are very often confused. As the half-time values reflect laboratory conditions which are quite different from environmental conditions (after a substance is released), these values should not be used to quantify and predict environmental behavior. The probability value could be of much greater benefit for predictions under realistic conditions. The main issue in the evaluation of probability is that the result is not based on a single inoculum from an environmental sample, but on a variety of samples. These samples can be representative of regional or local areas, climate regions, water types, and history, e.g., pristine or polluted. The above concept has provided us with a new approach, namely " Probabio." With this approach, persistence is not only regarded as a simple intrinsic property of a substance, but also as the capability of various environmental samples to degrade a substance under realistic exposure conditions and F/M ratio. © 2011 Thouand, Durand, Maul, Gancet and Blok.




Thouand, G., Durand, M. J., Maul, A., Gancet, C., & Blok, H. (2011). New concepts in the evaluation of biodegradation/persistence of chemical substances using a microbial inoculum. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2(AUG).

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