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Applications of bioremediation and phytoremediation

Posted on 17. February, 2014.

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The decontamination of soil and water from pollutants using microorganisms is known as bioremediation. This can occur naturally or be stimulated, e.g. by the application of fertilisers.  More recently it has been shown that through the addition of matched microbe strains to the medium, the effectiveness of the resident microbe population to decompose contaminants may be enhanced.

It should not be imagined that every type of contaminant can be disposed of by means of microorganisms. Heavy metal contaminants, e.g. Cd2+ and Pb2+, tend to resist interception by microorganisms. In such cases, phytoremediation is useful because the toxins are bioaccumulated into the body of plants, above ground, which can then be harvested and removed. By measuring the oxidation reduction potential (redox) in soil and groundwater, along with pH, temperature, O2 tension, concentrations of electron acceptors and donors, and of decomposition products, such as CO2, a measure of the bioremediation process can be obtained. 

Bioremediation can be used in locations that cannot readily be treated other than by excavation, e.g. spillages of petrol or chlorinated solvents which may contaminate groundwater. This is usually a much cheaper approach than excavating material to be disposed of elsewhere, or through or other ex situ strategies, and which reduces or eliminates the need for "pump and treat", which is often employed where clean groundwater has been contaminated. The process may be enhanced by the addition of appropriate oxidising or reducing amendment agents. There is scope too for the creation of genetically modified microorganisms that are specifically tailored for bioremediation, e.g. the most radioresistent organism known so far, the aptly named bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans has been modified to consume and digest toluene and mercury cations in the presence of high level nuclear waste.

Read the entire article here in issue 4 of Science Progress.

Photo: Spilled crude oil on field - nature pollution, CyberKat/

Doi: 10.3184/003685013X13818570960538

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