Standard Article


Water Quality Control

  1. Christian D. Frazar

Published Online: 15 APR 2005

DOI: 10.1002/047147844X.wq96

Water Encyclopedia

Water Encyclopedia

How to Cite

Frazar, C. D. 2005. Biodegradation. Water Encyclopedia. 2:41–45.

Author Information

  1. Silver Spring, Maryland

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2005


The beginnings of life on this planet arose during a time of extreme conditions. For life to arise in an inhospitable world, the first organisms needed to be simple but hearty. The life forms of today considered most similar to those early ancestors of life are bacteria and archaea—simple, primitive organisms. Despite their primitive nature, these organisms have a diverse and powerful metabolic potential.

Microorganisms are at the base of the food chain and play a key role in both secondary production and in decomposition. The ability of microorganisms to decompose or breakdown compounds is known as biodegradation. This term is often used to refer to the degradation of environmental pollutants by bacteria or fungi. This discussion will focus on the degradation process itself and the factors that influence and limit biodegradation.


  • bacteria;
  • bioavailability;
  • biodegradation;
  • bioremediation;
  • microorganism;
  • recalcitrance