Focht, Dennis D. Department of Soil and Environmental Sciences, University of California, Riverside, California.
Last reviewed:May 2020
Show previous versions
- Enrichment culture
- Cometabolism and fortuitous metabolism
- Microbial consortia
- Fungal enzymes
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
The destruction of organic compounds by microorganisms. Biodegradation is a process (carried out by microorganisms) that decomposes organic material into its constituent elements or new compounds. Microorganisms, particularly bacteria (and fungi to a lesser extent), are responsible for the decomposition of both natural and synthetic organic compounds in nature (see illustration). Mineralization results in complete conversion of a compound to its inorganic mineral constituents [for example, carbon dioxide (CO2) from carbon; sulfate or sulfide from organic sulfur; nitrate or ammonium from organic nitrogen; phosphate from organophosphates; or chloride from organochlorine]. Because carbon comprises the greatest mass of organic compounds, mineralization can be considered in terms of CO2 evolution. Radioactive carbon-14 (14C) isotopes enable scientists to distinguish between mineralization arising from contaminants and soil organic matter. However, mineralization of any compound is never 100% because some of it (10–40% of the total amount degraded) is incorporated into the cell mass or products that become part of the amorphous soil organic matter, commonly referred to as humus. Thus, biodegradation comprises mineralization and conversion to innocuous products—namely, biomass and humus. Primary biodegradation is more limited in scope and refers to the disappearance of the compound as a result of its biotransformation to another product. See also: Bacteria; Bacteriology; Carbon; Carbon dioxide; Fungi; Humus; Microbial ecology; Microbiology; Soil; Soil ecology; Soil microbiology
The content above is only an excerpt.
for your institution. Subscribe
To learn more about subscribing to AccessScience, or to request a no-risk trial of this award-winning scientific reference for your institution, fill in your information and a member of our Sales Team will contact you as soon as possible.
to your librarian. Recommend
Let your librarian know about the award-winning gateway to the most trustworthy and accurate scientific information.
AccessScience provides the most accurate and trustworthy scientific information available.
Recognized as an award-winning gateway to scientific knowledge, AccessScience is an amazing online resource that contains high-quality reference material written specifically for students. Contributors include more than 10,000 highly qualified scientists and 46 Nobel Prize winners.
MORE THAN 8700 articles covering all major scientific disciplines and encompassing the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology and McGraw-Hill Yearbook of Science & Technology
115,000-PLUS definitions from the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms
3000 biographies of notable scientific figures
MORE THAN 19,000 downloadable images and animations illustrating key topics
ENGAGING VIDEOS highlighting the life and work of award-winning scientists
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY and additional readings to guide students to deeper understanding and research
LINKS TO CITABLE LITERATURE help students expand their knowledge using primary sources of information