Bioremediation

wstafford@uwc.ac.za

or to levels below concentration limits established by regulatory authorities. . deliberate release. Bioremediation is defined as the process whereby organic wastes are biologically degraded under controlled conditions to an innocuous state.Bioremediation   The quality of life on Earth is linked inextricably to the overall quality of the environment The contamination of soil and water with organic and inorganic pollutants is of increasing concern and the subject of legislation. heavy metals. These pollutants include complex organic compounds. and natural products such as oils and are derived from industrial processing. and accidental release.

 The microorganisms may be indigenous to a contaminated area and stimulated in activity (biostimulation) or they may be isolated from elsewhere and brought to the contaminated site (bioaugmentation). . Bioremediation uses naturally occurring bacteria and fungi or plants to degrade or detoxify substances hazardous to human health and/or the environment.

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• Bioaugmentation. • Addition of genetically modified micro-organisms. • Phytoremediation. and can deal with lower concentrations of contaminants more effectively. • Encourage the indigenous population. . Bioremediation is cheaper than the chemical and physical options.        In many cases the clean-up of contaminated sites has been carried out using physical and chemical methods such as immobilization. thermal. • Use the indigenous microbial population. although the process may take longer. and solvent treatments. The strategies for bioremediation in both soil and water can be as follows. removal (dig and dump). the addition of adapted or designed inoculants.

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Many thousands of synthetic organic (xenobiotic) compounds have been pro-duced and many of these have found their way into the environment. from spillage and disposal. and pentachlorophenol.2. carbon tetrachloride. The scale of herbicide production can be seen in Table 5. these contami-nants can be localized or widespread.  Many of the xenobiotic compounds released into the environment accumu-late because they are only degraded very slowly and in some cases so slowly as to render them effectively permanent. flame retardants and dielectric fluids in transformers are released during production. and lubricants. The half-lives (the time required to remove half of the compound present) of some of the halogenated pesticides  . Most biocides and herbicides are released into the environment by direct use although some may be released during manufacture. depending on the properties.2. and preser-vatives and some of their structures are given in Fig. Other contaminants such as dioxins and dibenzofurans can be formed during the combustion of polyaro-matic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and when heating plant oils. where the herbicide atrazine is produced at a rate of 39 000 tonnes per year. adhesives. such as solubility and the nature of their release. Some of the most commonly found are the pesticides (biocides). herbicides. plasticizers. 5. So. Other synthetic compounds such as poly-chlorobiphenyls (PCBs) are used in hydraulic fluids. and spills do occur. which are used as solvents and for wood treatment. Another group of con-taminants found frequently in the environment are chlorinated compounds such as trichloroethene.

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Xenobiotic persistance .

Recalcitrant chlorinated hydrocarbons .

forming 2. a biodegradable compound. which is recalcitrant. A mixture of 2.4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2.4. and its persistence was of great concern when it was used as a defoliant in the Vietnam War.5-T is known as Agent Orange.4-D).  Caused long-term metabolic and neuroligical effects in exposed humans .4.5-T).5trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2.Agent orange (2.4-T)  The effect of the addition of another chlorine to 2.4.4-D and 2.4-D and 2.

and these are toxic to living cells.  While accidental releases may contribute to only a small percentage of the oil released into the marine environment large accidental oil spills receive much attention and evoke considerable public concern because they can result in contamination of ocean and shoreline environments. . Many hydrocarbons dissolve slowly in water. Others such as the aromatic compounds like benzene are more soluble.Oil spills  As a result of the petroleum industry millions of tons of these compounds enter the oceans every year.

.oil spill! The biggest spill ever occurred during the 1991 Persian Gulf war when about 240 million gallons spilled from oil terminals and tankers off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The Exxon Valdez accident at Bligh Reef in 1989 discharged 40 million litres….

. fluorenes. naphthalenes.    Initial studies sowed that the number of oil degrading microorganisms on oiled beaches in comparison with untreated controls increased by as much as 10.000 times The biodegradation by indigenous microorganisms was monitored by GC-MS. . Data also sowed that nitrate addition stimulated biodegradation.Bioremediation to the rescue?.an oleophilic microemulsion containing a solution of urea in brine. and anthracene completely mineralized to CO2 and H2O. encapsulated in oleic acid and lauryl phosphate. Small scale in situ trials with Inipol EAP 22. The microbial community decomposed dibenzothiphene. phenanthrene.. showed that that the microbial population could rapidly biodegrade the aliphatic and aromatic fractions of crude oil.

This means that an oil spill that would take five to ten years to degrade can be degraded in as little as two to five years. Congress 1989). By the end of the summer of 1989. 100 km of shoreline were treated with nutrient applications.S. The potential benefits of reducing wildlife exposure to oil allowed the EPA to support a proposal for application of nutrients to oil covered beaches (EPA 1989). This acceleration of clean-up time.     More extensive beach plot experiments tested different nutrient additions and an ecological monitoring program was established (U.Initial experiments revealed visible improvements after 10 days. The results of all tests showed that biodegradation can be enhanced about two to three fold. . could give bioremediation technology a bright future. Results showed that no detectable nutrients ended up in the waters off the test site and there was no evidence of eutrophication.

potentially harming wildlife. (eg 1 in 30 cetacean carcasses had choked on plastic debris). Most of today's plastics and synthetic polymers are produced from petrochemicals. Pertochemical plastics take hundreds of years to break down…  . As conventional plastics are persistent in the environment. Plastics are also a costly in municipal waste management.Biodegradable plastics?   The use of long-lasting polymers for short-lived applications is not entirely justified. improperly disposed plastic materials are a significant source of environmental pollution. especially when increased concern exists about the preservation of living systems.

but the time for biodegradable plastic to be composted is 1 to 6 months : Photobiodegradable plastics. the bacterium Alcaligenes eutrophus produces the polyester poly-beta-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) as a storage reserve for excess carbon.  A number of microbes naturally produce biodegradable polymers that are suitable for the plastics industry. that can be microbially degraded. For example. . forming biodegradable materials. flexibility and crystallanity of polymers is determined by the Type of repeating units and the media and type of bacteria used to produce the polymer.  The strength. The monomeric unit of PHB is betahydroxybutyrate. Bacterial plastics.  Polymers that change structure when illuminated with UV radiation. Starch-linked biodegradable plastics.  Starch has been incorporated into the structure of some plastics.

But is used in the US navy (cups) and Japan (disposable razors!) GMO plants producing plastic?  A team at the DoE Plant research lab at Michigan State University took two genes from PHB-making bacteria and inserted them cress plants. They had managed to create a transgenic plant that could grow plastic.Why isn't PHB filling up our supermarket shelves?  A major factor limiting PHB's use is its brittleness. It's too early yet to risk growing PHB on a large scale outdoors…? .  But scientists really are not yet sure about how easy it is to confine genetically modified plants in one area. or about the impact so much PHB would have on the environment.