Biodegradation is the main process for the removal of organic compounds from the environment, but proceeds slowly for many synthetic chemicals of environmental concern. Research on microbial biodegradation pathways revealed that recalcitrance is - among other factors - caused by biochemical blockages resulting in dysfunctional catabolic routes. This has raised interest in the possibility to construct microorganisms with improved catabolic activities by genetic engineering. Although this goal has been pursued for decades, no full-scale applications have emerged. This perspective explores the lagging implementation of genetically engineered microorganisms in practical bioremediation. The major technical and scientific issues are illustrated by comparing two examples, that of 1,2-dichloroethane where successful full-scale application of pump-and-treat biotreatment processes has been achieved, and 1,2,3-trichloropropane, for which protein and genetic engineering yielded effective bacterial cultures that still await application.