Synthesis of intracellular polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) from mixed phenolic substrates in an acclimated consortium and the mechanisms of toxicity

Mingfeng Yang, Yuqi Zou, Xiao Wang, Xiang Liu, Chunli Wan, Marie Harder, Qun Yan, Jiangkun Nan, Ioanna Ntaikou, Georgia Antonopoulou, Gerasimos Lyberatos, Yi Zhang

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Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are a class of intracellular storage polymers with the potential to supplement/replace petroleum-based plastics. Production of PHA from waste organics can reduce its cost, but toxic carbon sources such as simple aromatics are seldom used. This study investigates the feasibility of mixed toxic phenolics as substrates, utilizing a phenol-acclimated consortium of high PHA accumulation capability. Phenol was employed as the main feedstock, and four kinds of mono- and di-chlorinated phenols (CPs) were individually mixed with it as possible impurities. The inclusion of CPs was found to reduce substrate removal and PHA accumulation rates, compared to phenol alone. The degree of inhibition was positively-correlated with CP concentration, but the mechanisms differed. 2- and 3-chlorinated phenols formed dark, toxic, dead-end products; 4-chlorinated phenol (4-CP) appeared to exert competitive inhibition; and 2,4-dichlorinated phenol acted like an inert component. Transformation pathway study discovered that phenol was degraded via meta-cleavage, while 2- and 3-CPs were transformed into 3-chlorocatechol as the intermediate. FTIR, DSC, NMR, HPLC and elemental analysis were carried out to characterize the extracted polymer. The results show that phenol was converted to poly(3-hydroxybutyrate), while the inclusion of mono-chlorinated phenol promoted the production of PHA containing 3-hydroxyvalerate (3HV) monomers. A recovery test after mild CP exposure found that the affected biomass was able to resume phenol degradation and PHA synthesis immediately after simple aeration, indicating its robustness and applicability in a real industrial setting.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107944
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Environmental Chemical Engineering
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is funded by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (Greece-China Intergovernmental Bilateral Research & Technological Development Cooperation 2017, Project WASTE2PLASTICS, No. 2017YFE0193400 ), and the China Scholarship Council (2018 International Clean Energy Talent Program, iCET2018 CSC No. 201802180039 ). Part of the results is pending China invention patent.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.


  • PHA
  • Phenol
  • Chlorinated phenol
  • Toxicity
  • Mechanism


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