Harnessing microbial phylum-specific molecular markers for assessment of environmental estrogen degradation

Tsun Hsien Hsiao, Po Hao Chen, Po Hsiang Wang, Guo Jie Brandon-Mong, Chen Wei Li, Masae Horinouchi, Toshiaki Hayashi, Wael Ismail, Menghsiao Meng, Yi Lung Chen, Yin Ru Chiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Steroidal estrogens are ubiquitous contaminants that have garnered attention worldwide due to their endocrine-disrupting and carcinogenic activities at sub-nanomolar concentrations. Microbial degradation is one of the main mechanisms through which estrogens can be removed from the environment. Numerous bacteria have been isolated and identified as estrogen degraders; however, little is known about their contribution to environmental estrogen removal. Here, our global metagenomic analysis indicated that estrogen degradation genes are widely distributed among bacteria, especially among aquatic actinobacterial and proteobacterial species. Thus, by using the Rhodococcus sp. strain B50 as the model organism, we identified three actinobacteria-specific estrogen degradation genes, namely aedGHJ, by performing gene disruption experiments and metabolite profile analysis. Among these genes, the product of aedJ was discovered to mediate the conjugation of coenzyme A with a unique actinobacterial C17 estrogenic metabolite, 5-oxo-4-norestrogenic acid. However, proteobacteria were found to exclusively adopt an α-oxoacid ferredoxin oxidoreductase (i.e., the product of edcC) to degrade a proteobacterial C18 estrogenic metabolite, namely 3-oxo-4,5-seco-estrogenic acid. We employed actinobacterial aedJ and proteobacterial edcC as specific biomarkers for quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) to elucidate the potential of microbes for estrogen biodegradation in contaminated ecosystems. The results indicated that aedJ was more abundant than edcC in most environmental samples. Our results greatly expand the understanding of environmental estrogen degradation. Moreover, our study suggests that qPCR-based functional assays are a simple, cost-effective, and rapid approach for holistically evaluating estrogen biodegradation in the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number165152
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 20 Oct 2023


  • Actinobacteria
  • Coenzyme A ligase
  • Endocrine-disrupting chemicals
  • Estrogen biodegradation
  • Proteobacteria
  • α-oxoacid ferredoxin oxidoreductase


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