THE contamination of sub-surface water supplies with aromatic compounds is a significant environmental concern1,2. As these contaminated sub-surface environments are generally anaerobic, the microbial oxidation of aromatic compounds coupled to nitrate reduction, sulphate reduction and methane production has been studied intensively1-7. In addition, geochemical evidence suggests that Fe(III) can be an important electron acceptor for the oxidation of aromatic compounds in anaerobic groundwater. Until now, only abiological mechanisms for the oxidation of aromatic compounds with Fe(III) have been reported8-12. Here we show that in aquatic sediments, microbial activity is necessary for the oxidation of model aromatic compounds coupled to Fe(III) reduction. Furthermore, a pure culture of the Fe(III)-reducing bacterium GS-15 can obtain energy for growth by oxidizing benzoate, toluene, phenol or p-cresol with Fe(III) as the sole electron acceptor. These results extend the known physiological capabilities of Fe(III)-reducing organisms and provide the first example of an organism of any type which can oxidize an aromatic hydrocarbon anaerobically.
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