Microbial metabolism of isoprene: a much-neglected climate-active gas

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The climate-active gas isoprene is the major volatile produced by a variety of trees and is released into the atmosphere in enormous quantities, on a par with global emissions of methane. While isoprene production in plants and its effect on atmospheric chemistry have received considerable attention, research into the biological isoprene sink has been neglected until recently. Here, we review current knowledge on the sources and sinks of isoprene and outline its environmental effects. Focusing on degradation by microbes, many of which are able to use isoprene as the sole source of carbon and energy, we review recent studies characterizing novel isoprene degraders isolated from soils, marine sediments and in association with plants. We describe the development and use of molecular methods to identify, quantify and genetically characterize isoprene-degrading strains in environmental samples. Finally, this review identifies research imperatives for the further study of the environmental impact, ecology, regulation and biochemistry of this interesting group of microbes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number000931
Pages (from-to)600–613
Number of pages14
Issue number7
Early online date22 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Atmospheric trace gas
  • BVOC
  • Biogeochemical cycling
  • Isoprene
  • Microbial ecology
  • Rhodococcus
  • Soluble diiron centre monooxygenase
  • Stable isotope probing
  • Variovorax

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