O-methylation of chloroguaiacols has been examined in a number of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria to elucidate the effects of substrate concentration, growth conditions, and cell density. Substrate concentrations between 0.1 and 20.0 mg liter−1 were used, and it was found that (i) yields of the O-methylated products were significantly higher at the lowest concentrations and (ii) rates of O-methylation were not linear functions of concentration. With 3,4,5-trichloroguaiacol, the nature of the metabolites also changed with concentration. During growth with a range of substrates, O-methylation of chloroguaiacols also took place. With vanillate, however, de-O-methylation occurred: the chlorocatechol formed from 4,5,6-trichloroguaiacol was successively O-methylated to 3,4,5-trichloroguaiacol and 3,4,5-trichloroveratrole, whereas that produced from 4,5-dichloroguaiacol was degraded without O-methylation. Effective O-methylation in nonproliferating suspensions occurred at cell densities as low as 105 cells ml−1, although both the yields and the rates were lower than in more dense cultures. By using disk assays, it was shown that, compared with their precursors, all of the O-methylated metabolites were virtually nontoxic to the strains examined. It is therefore proposed that O-methylation functions as a detoxification mechanism for cells exposed to chloroguaiacols and chlorophenols. In detail, significant differences were observed in the response of gram-positive and gram-negative cell strains to chloroguaiacols. It is concluded that bacterial O-methylation is to be expected in the natural environment subjected to discharge of chloroguaiacols
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