Structure-specificity of microbial transformation of PFAS and its implications


Carbon-fluorine (C–F) bond is the strongest single bond in nature. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of man-made chemicals with broad applications causing severe environmental concerns due to their persistence and toxicity. Although microbial defluorination of naturally occurring and less fluorinated compounds, such as monofluoroacetate, has been well studied, biodefluorination pathways and mechanisms of highly fluorinated PFAS have not been clearly understood. The first and critical questions to address include which PFAS structures could be biotransformed by which microorganisms in which conditions. In this presentation, the specific moieties in PFAS structures, which are preferred by different microorganisms to attack, will be summarized according to experimental studies so far. The involved biotransformation reactions and pathways will be explained. The implications of the structure-biodegradability relationships on the assessment of environmental fate, source-tracking, cost-effective treatment of PFAS, and the design of biodegradable alternative PFAS will be discussed at the end.

The Presenters

Yujie Men, Ph.D.Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
Dr. Yujie Men is currently an Associate Professor at the University of California, Riverside. She earned her Ph.D. degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and B.S. and M.S. degrees in Environmental Engineering at Tsinghua University. She did her postdoc research at UC, Berkeley and Eawag in Switzerland. Before she joined UCR in 2019, she was an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Men has expertise in environmental microbiology, molecular biology, and analytical chemistry. Her research interests focus on the interactions between microbes and the environment impacted by contaminants of emerging concerns (CECs). Her research projects include microbial transformation of CECs, particularly per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, as well as the impact of CECs on the development and transmission of antibiotic resistance. She was an NSF-CAREER Award recipient in 2021. She also serves as the Editor of Water Research X and Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering.
Rosemary Le, Ph.D.Laboratory Supervisor, SiREM
Rosemary is a Chemical Engineer with a background in biotechnology, sustainable energy research, and molecular biology that joined SiREM Knoxville in 2022. Her collective experiences of being a researcher, baker, restaurant manager, entrepreneur, and DNA analyst have prepared her to bring creative and innovative solutions to remediation and treatability studies in her new roles as a Laboratory Supervisor and Environmental Scientist with SiREM.