Quantitative structure–activity relationships for primary aerobic biodegradation of organic chemicals in pristine surface waters: starting points for predicting biodegradation under acclimatization
Microbial biomass and acclimation can affect the removal of organic chemicals in natural surface waters. In order to account for these effects and develop more robust models for biodegradation, we have compiled and curated removal data for un-acclimated (pristine) surface waters on which we developed quantitative structure–activity relationships (QSARs). Global analysis of the very heterogeneous dataset including neutral, anionic, cationic and zwitterionic chemicals (N = 233) using a random forest algorithm showed that useful predictions were possible (Qext2 = 0.4–0.5) though relatively large standard errors were associated (SDEP ∼0.7). Classification of the chemicals based on speciation state and metabolic pathway showed that biodegradation is influenced by the two, and that the dependence of biodegradation on chemical characteristics is non-linear. Class-specific QSAR analysis indicated that shape and charge distribution determine the biodegradation of neutral chemicals (R2 ∼ 0.6), e.g. through membrane permeation or binding to P450 enzymes, whereas the average biodegradation of charged chemicals is 1 to 2 orders of magnitude lower, for which degradation depends more directly on cellular uptake (R2 ∼ 0.6). Further analysis showed that specific chemical classes such as peptides and organic halogens are relatively less biodegradable in pristine surface waters, resulting in the need for the microbial consortia to acclimate. Additional literature data was used to verify an acclimation model (based on Monod-type kinetics) capable of extrapolating QSAR predictions to acclimating conditions such as in water treatment, downstream lakes and large rivers under μg L−1 to mg L−1 concentrations. The framework developed, despite being based on multiple assumptions, is promising and needs further validation using experimentation with more standardised and homogenised conditions as well as adequate characterization of the inoculum used.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Modeling in Environmental Chemistry