Potential of esterase DmtH in transforming plastic additive dimethyl terephthalate to less toxic mono-methyl terephthalate

Xiaokun Cheng, Shuangshuang Dong, Dian Chen, Qi Rui, Jingjing Guo, Wang Dayong Wang, Jiandong Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) is a primary ingredient widely used in the manufacture of polyesters and industrial plastics; its environmental fate is of concern due to its global use. Microorganisms play key roles in the dissipation of DMT from the environment; however, the enzymes responsible for the initial transformation of DMT and the possible altered toxicity due to this biotransformation have not been extensively studied. To reduce DMT toxicity, we identified the esterase gene dmtH involved in the initial transformation of DMT from the AOPP herbicide-transforming strain Sphingobium sp. C3. DmtH shows 24–41% identity with α/β-hydrolases and belongs to subfamily V of bacterial esterases. The purified recombinant DmtH was capable of transforming DMT to mono-methyl terephthalate (MMT) and potentially transforming other p-phthalic acid esters, including diallyl terephthalate (DAT) and diethyl terephthalate (DET). Using C. elegans as an assay model, we observed the severe toxicity of DMT in inducing reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, decreasing locomotion behavior, reducing lifespan, altering molecular basis for oxidative stress, and inducing mitochondrial stress. In contrast, exposure to MMT did not cause obvious toxicity, induce oxidative stress, and activate mitochondrial stress in nematodes. Our study highlights the usefulness of Sphingobium sp. C3 and its esterase DmtH in transforming p-phthalic acid esters and reducing the toxicity of DMT to organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109848
JournalEcotoxicology and Environmental Safety
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Biotransformation
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Dimethyl terephthalate
  • Esterase (DmtH)
  • Plastic additive
  • Toxicity


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