Microbial Metabolism of Organophosphates: Key for Developing Smart Bioremediation Process of Next Generation

  • Santanu Pailan
  • Kriti Sengupta
  • Pradipta SahaEmail author
Part of the Microorganisms for Sustainability book series (MICRO, volume 22)


Currently organophosphate compounds constitute one of the largest families of chemical compounds that are used for pest control, mainly for better crop yield worldwide. Due to their toxicity, persistence, and adverse effects, some organophosphates (like parathion and methyl parathion) were classified and registered as extremely hazardous by the World Health Organization (WHO) and US EPA (US Environmental Protection agency) and have been banned in many countries. Some of the hydrolysis intermediates (such as 4-nitrophenol and trichloropyridinol) of these organophosphates are more toxic and environmentally mobile (due to greater water solubility) and therefore more dangerous. However, existing reports suggest their illegal, extensive use and application without proper technical know-how (especially by illiterate farmers in underdeveloped/developing countries). Their indiscriminate and extensive application and use are responsible for possible contamination of several ecosystems and groundwater. Continuous and excessive use of organophosphates has been reported to be responsible for various ever-ending global problems such as contamination of air, water, and terrestrial ecosystems, decline in diversity of productive soil microflora, disruption of biogeochemical cycles, and death of nontarget macroscopic life forms. Organophosphates have been documented as neurotoxic and are potent inhibitors of acetylcholinesterase. They are responsible for serious adverse effect on the nervous, excretion, endocrine, reproductive, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems of target as well as nontarget organisms including humans. Moreover, these compounds are one of the major causes of accidental and suicidal deaths in rural population of the world. The situation therefore is of huge public interest, and hence, suitable cost-effective bioremediation technique must be developed for the restoration of organophosphate-contaminated environmental niches. Bioremediation of pollutants by biological system has emerged as the most effective method for clean up the contaminated sites. In order to implement bioremediation approach, proper understanding of microbial metabolism of these organophosphates compounds is of extreme importance. Microbial metabolism of OP compounds can be carried out catabolically (with organophosphates serving either as a sole source for C, N, or P) or co-metabolically (in the presence of other compounds, mainly carbohydrates). The metabolic conversion of organophosphates to CO2 and H2O (i.e., complete mineralization) is carried out through three main processes such as degradation, conjugation, and rearrangements that involves reactions like oxidation, hydrolysis, and reduction, all mediated through the enzyme-mediated pathways. The main enzymes that are involved in hydrolysis are phosphotriesterases (PTE) and phosphatase. The three major types of PTE are reported so far, such as organophosphate hydrolase (OPH), methyl parathion hydrolase (MPH), and organophosphorus acid anhydrolase (OPAA) encoded by opd, mpd, and opaA genes, which are either located on plasmid or on chromosomal DNA. Since most of the organophosphates are less soluble to make it physiologically available for microbes, solubilization is carried out either through the secretion of organic acid or by biosurfactants by the microbial cells. This is followed by adsorption and or uptake. Most of these adsorption and uptake mechanisms remain largely unknown. However, being lipophilic and small in size, these organophosphates can be transported to the periplasmic space where the metabolic transformation starts. The metabolic transformation involves either an initial oxidation or reduction followed by hydrolysis to release the toxic functional group and phosphate group. This hydrolysis step is most critical as it reduces the toxicity of organophosphates. The metabolic transformation of the toxic functional group is most well-studied and reported in literature. This is followed by a series of reactions that involves interconversion ultimately leading to ring cleavage reaction that opens up the molecule. Further reactions then convert these intermediates into a product that can act as suitable metabolite to be entered into the TCA cycle. The end products released from the TCA cycle are CO2 and H2O. Most of initial reactions are mediated in the periplasmic space of the bacterial cell. The interconversion of much less toxic metabolites occurs in the cytoplasm. Although many facets of organophosphates biodegradation have been excavated, still there remain many lacunas. Understanding microbial diversity, ecological aspects, and adaptation strategies might cater better prospects to hope for smart technologies.


Organophosphates; 4-Nitrophenol Parathion Methyl parathion 



Authors are grateful to SERB, New Delhi, for providing fund to carry out work on organophosphate degradation and to the University of Burdwan, Burdwan, West Bengal.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MicrobiologyBurdwan UniversityGolapbag, BurdwanIndia

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