Faculty Profile

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  • Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin, Microbiology and Biochemistry, 1979
  • B.S., University of Texas at Arlington, Biology and Chemistry, 1973

Jim Spain joined the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology at the beginning of 2005. Dr. Spain received his PhD in microbiology from The University of Texas at Austin and a BS in Biology from the University of Texas at Arlington. He studied the biodegradation of pesticides in the marine environment for five years as a post doctoral fellow and research scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Marine Environmental Research Laboratory. Prior to joining Georgia Tech Dr. Spain directed the Environmental Biotechnology research program at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Panama City, Florida where he studied the biodegradation of synthetic organic compounds in the environment. His research interests in environmental biotechnology include: discovery and construction of bacteria for degradation of substituted aromatic compounds; physiological and ecological factors controlling microbial processes; and discovery of biocatalysts for green chemistry synthesis of novel materials. He works at the interface between basic microbiology research and practical applications to solve environmental problems.

Dr. Spain is a former editor for Applied and Environmental Microbiology and has published over 160 peer reviewed papers, several books, and numerous book chapters on the biodegradation and biosynthesis of organic compounds. He has served on review committees for the EPA, DoE, NIEHS, and DoD and on the editorial boards of a variety of journals.


  • Environmental distribution, persistence, and biodegradation of chemical pollutants
  • Green chemistry synthesis of organic compounds by biocatalysis
  • Biodegradation pathways in bacteria for application to bioremediation
  • Environmental biotechnology related to marine, freshwater and subsurface ecosystems
  • Evolution and adaptation of microbial communities
  • Biochemistry, ecology, and molecular biology of environmentally relevant microbes
  • Discovery and characterization of bacteria that degrade synthetic organic compounds
  • Photobiological hydrogen production by cyanobacteria


  • 2011 Sir Fredrick McMaster Fellowship, CSIRO Australia Visiting Lectureship
  • 2009 American Society for Microbiology-Proctor and Gamble Award for Excellence in Environmental Microbiology
  • 1994 Elected Fellow American Academy for Microbiology


  • Liu, J., Ying Xu, Shi-Kai Deng, Lei Liu, Jun Min, Ting Shi, Jim Spain, and Ning-Yi Zhou. 2021. Physiological role of the previously unexplained benzenetriol dioxygenase homolog in the Burkholderia sp. strain SJ98 4-nitrophenol catabolic pathway. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. DOI: 10.1128/aem.00007-21.
  • Madiera, C., O. Menezes, D. Park, K. Jog, J. Hatt, S. Gavazza, M. Krzmarzick, R. Sierra-Alvarez, J. Spain, K. Konstantinidos, J. Field. 2021. Bacteria make a living breathing the nitro-heterocyclic insensitive munitions compound 3-nitro-1,2,4-triazol-5-one (NTO). Environ. Sci. Technol. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c07161
  • Gao, Yi-Zhou, M.L. Palatucci, L.A. Waidner, T. Li, Y. Guo, J.C. Spain and N.Y. Zhou. 2020. A Nag-like dioxygenase initiates 3,4-dichloronitrobenzene degradation via 4,5-dichlorocatechol in Diaphorobacter sp. Strain JS3050. Environ. Microbiol. 23:1053-1065. https://doi.org/10.1111/1462-2920.15295.
  • Karthikeyan, S., M. Kim, P. Heritier-Robbins, J. Hatt, J.C. Spain, W. Overholt, M. Huettel, J. Kostka, and K. Kostantinidis. 2020. Integrated omics elucidate the mechanisms driving the rapid biodegradation of Deepwater Horizon oil in intertidal sediments undergoing oxic-anoxic cycles. Environ. Sci. Technol. 54:10088–10099.
  • Sexton, W.K., M. Fidero, J.C. Spain, L. Jiang, K. Bucalo, J.M. Cruse-Sanders and G.S. Pullman. 2020. Characterization of endophytic bacterial communities within greenhouse and field- grown rhizomes of three rare pitcher plant species (Sarracenia oreophila, S. leucophylla, and S. purpurea spp. venosa) with an emphasis on nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Plant and Soil. 447: 257–279.
  • Jennings, L.K., C.G.S. Giddings, J.M. Gossett, and J.C. Spain. 2013. Bioaugmentation for aerobic degradation of cis-1,2-dichloroethylene. In Stroo, H.F., A. Leeson, and C.H. Ward (eds). Bioaugmentation for Groundwater Remediation. SERDP ESTCP Environmental Remediation Technology. Volume 5:199-217.
  • Nishino, S. F., and J. C. Spain. 2004. Catabolism of nitroaromatic compounds. pp. 575-608. In: J.-L. Ramos (ed.), The Pseudomonads Vol III. Biosynthesis of macromolecules and molecular metabolism. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
  • Ward, C.H., J.B. Hughes, G.A. Pope, M. Delshad, V. Dwaranath, J. Spain, S. Nishino, J.S. Fruchter, V.R. Vermeul, M.D. Williams, and J.E. Szecsody. 2002. In situ treatment technologies. In: D. Reible and K. Demnerova (eds.) Innovative Approaches to the On-Site Assessement and Remediation of Contaminated Sites. Kluwer Acacemic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
  • Nishino, S.F. and J.C. Spain. 2001. Identification of bottlenecks to the in situ bioremediation of dinitrotoluene. In: Magar, V.S., G. Johnson, S.K. Ong, and A. Leeson (eds.) Bioremediation of Energetics, Phenolics, and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. Battelle Press, Columbus, OH.
  • Nishino, S.F. and J.C. Spain. Biodegradation, transformation and bioremediation of nitroaromatic compounds. 2002. In: C.H. Hurst, G.R. Knudsen, M.J. McInerney, L.D. Stetzenbach, and M.V. Walter (eds.) Manual of Environmental Microbiology, 2nd Edition. ASM Press, Washington DC.
  • Nishino, S.F., S. Craven, E. Lang, and J.C Spain. 2011. Biodegradation of m-tyrosine by rhizosphere bacteria. 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology
  • Smitherman, C., K. Francis, S. Nishino, JC Spain, and G. Gadda. 2011. Detoxification of a lethal toxin by nitronate monooxygenase. International Symposium on Flavins and Flavoproteins, Berkeley, CA.
  • Gadda, G., K. Francis, S. Nishino, and JC Spain. 2011. Propionate-3-nitronate oxidation by fungal nitronate monooxygenase: a 60- year mystery solved. Gordon Research Conference on Enzymes, Coenzymes and Metabolic Pathways.
  • Wijker, R.S Zohre Kurt, Jim C. Spain, Jakov Bolotin, and Thomas B. Hofstetter. 2011. Enzyme kinetics of flavin-dependent monooxygenases modulate the observable isotope fractionation during monooxidation of 4-nitrophenol. American Chemical Society Symposium on Reaction Mechanisms in Environmental Organic Chemistry. Denver, CO.
  • Cox, E., C. Austrins, J. Spain, K. Shin, S. Nishino, J. Gossett, C. Giddings, L. Jennings, E. Edwards, T. Johnson, M. Duhamel, and B. Sherwood-Lollar. 2010. The truth is out there: unraveling the mystery of the missing DCE, vinyl chloride, and ethane. Seventh International Conference on Remediation of Chlorinated and Recalcitrant Compounds, Monterey, CA.
  • 2015 Peking University, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences
  • 2015 Tsinghua University, College of Hydraulic and Hydroelectric Engineering
  • 2015 University of Minnesota, Department of Biochemistry
  • 2015 Duke University, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • 2015 University of Science and Technology, Beijing, Department of Environmental Engineering
  • L.J. Nadeau, H. Luckarift, and J.C. Spain. 2011. Biocatalytic process for the production of ortho-aminophenols from chloramphenicol and analogs. US Patent No. 11,602,435.
  • Spain, J.C., L.J. Nadeau, and Z. He 2004. Biological process for the production of ortho-aminophenols from nitroaromatic compounds. US Patent No. 6,797,497. September 28, 2004.
  • He, Z., and J. C. Spain. 2002. Preparation of 2-aminomuconate from aminophenol by coupled enzymatic dioxygenation and dehydroxylation. US Patent No. 6,432,683. Aug. 13, 2002.
  • Spain, J.C., S.F. Nishino, and U. Lendenmann. Process for the biodegradation of dinitrotoluene. US Patent No. 6,248,580 B1. June 19, 2001.
  • Nadeau, L.J., J.C. Spain, and V. Kadiyala. 2005. Biological process for the conversion of nitroarenes to ortho-aminophenols using recombinant E. coli strains. US Patent No. 7,364,881. April 29, 2008.