Cleaning Up and Managing the Environment
Bioremediation is cleaning up the environment using enzymes or living organisms such as naturally-occurring and genetically-modified micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi. The enzymes and organisms break down toxic and hazardous substances present in the environment because of some human activity.
Huge numbers of bacteria exist naturally in soil, rubbish, recycling and land fill sites. Some slowly break down the many different types of waste, and others use oil as a source of nutrients, just as we use food. These bacteria can be used to break down oil spills at sea or on the shore.
Using biological treatment to solve waste or hazardous chemical problems is not a new idea. What is new is the greatly increased range of treatments that may be possible using biotechnology.
Biotechnologists can use the tools of gene technology to recombine, or mix and match, the most desirable traits of several bacterial species to create recombinant (genetically engineered) varieties.
For example, scientists could perhaps isolate a gene from one strain that allows it to break down some specific hazardous waste, and a gene from another strain that allows it to withstand wide temperature ranges, lack of oxygen or other environmental extremes. These genes could then be transferred into a common, harmless bacterium that can be easily mass produced.
The ideal result would be a custom-made bacteria that could clean up a specific problem waste at a particular site under defined conditions.
For a great overview about bacteria, bioremediation and links to other sites, visit the Virtual Museum of Bacteria.
Read about current research going on at the Cooperative Research Centre for Environmental Biotechnology.