General Health

Role of Microorganisms in Bioremediating Polluted Soils

Introduction

Around 95% of the food produced worldwide depends on the ecosystem services that soil provides, and only fertile soil can yield an adequate supply of high-quality food. According to The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the degradation of land and soils is affecting at least 3.2 billion people–40% of the world’s population.

Soil contamination puts the safety of the world’s food at risk by lowering agricultural output and endangering crop quality. It poses a risk to human health since it disseminates poisonous compounds that are hazardous for a long time in both urban and rural soils as well as in our water. Chemical pollutants damage the ecosystem’s processes and eliminate biodiversity by dehydrating the soil and accelerating its acidity. By doing so, they rob us of the third-largest carbon sink on the planet and so contribute to the warming of the planet.

This phenomenon has made scientific researchers delve into possible ways and processes that can help reduce or eliminate soil pollutants and improve the quality of soils. It was discovered that some microorganisms had special structures that can break down complex chemical processes.

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In this article, we’ll explore how microorganisms can help bioremediate polluted soils. We’ll also discuss some of the benefits of bioremediation and look at some of the challenges involved in this process.

What Is Bioremediation?

Soil pollution is a serious, and often overlooked, environmental pollutant. Soils become polluted when toxic compounds from human activities (like manufacturing or mining) enter the environment and accumulate in the soil. These pollutants can cause a range of health and environmental problems.

Bioremediation is a process that uses microorganisms to break down or remove pollutants from the soil. There are many different bioremediation techniques, but all of them rely on the ability of microorganisms to degrade or transform pollutants into less harmful compounds.

Bioremediation is a cost-effective and sustainable way to clean up polluted soils. It can also be used to treat soils that have been contaminated by radioactive materials.

How Does Bioremediation Work?

Bioremediation is the natural process of using microorganisms to break down pollutants in soil. This process can be sped up by adding nutrients that help the microorganisms to grow and multiply.

The microorganisms used in bioremediation can be found naturally in the environment, or they can be specifically bred and cultured for this purpose. Microbes either release enzymes to act on pollutants or consume them to generate energy. Once the pollutants have been broken down, the resulting molecules can be absorbed by the plants growing in the soil.

This process is effective in removing pollutants such as crude oil, petrol, diesel, solvents, and pesticides from the soil. It is also a sustainable way of cleaning up polluted areas, as it does not use any harsh chemicals or expensive equipment.

Microorganisms Used in Bioremediation

The concept of microorganisms has always not been appreciated by laymen. Most people think of microorganisms as something to be feared, but the truth is, that they play a vital role in our everyday lives. It is a fact that some microbes are widely known for their pathogenic nature (ability to cause disease) but do you know that there are species that are beneficial to man? In fact, they are a lot of them! They are present in our bodies, in our yogurt and cheese, in vaccines, and more. They are not harmful to us. They help break down complex processes into simpler forms so our bodies can utilize them.

It was discovered that many microbial species can help decontaminate polluted soils through natural processes. This aspect of biological science is bioremediation in microbiology.

Many types of microorganisms can be used in bioremediation. Bacteria, fungi, and archaea are the most common, and each has its own unique set of abilities that can help remediate polluted soils.

Bacteria: Can break down hydrocarbons and other pollutants in the soil. Examples are:

• Pseudomonas putida –which is capable of bioremediating toluene and degrading naphthalene in soils.

• Deinococcus radiodurans –which is capable of bioremediating solvents and heavy metals in soils.

• Alcanivorax borkumensis –which consumes hydrocarbons found in fuels to produce CO2 (carbon dioxide), a source of energy. This organism grows abundantly in environments rapidly damaged by oil and was employed during the cleanup of over 830,000 gallons of oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico.

Fungi: Can release enzymes that help breakdown complex molecules; Examples include:

• Phanerochaete chrysosporium – which is capable of bioremediating pesticides, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, carbon tetrachloride, and many other pollutants.

• Pleurotus ostreatus.

• Trametes versicolor

Archaea: Thrives in hypersaline (high salt concentration) environments where conventional bacteria and fungi may not. Some species are known to resist antibiotics like penicillin, cycloheximide, and streptomycin. This gives the organisms a greater advantage to bioremediate soils in the presence of antibiotics.

Each type of microorganism has its own specific set of benefits, so it’s important to choose the right one for the job. A full understanding of microbial activities is necessary for bioremediation. Otherwise, the effects on the environment can be worse than the initial contamination.

By using a combination of different microorganisms, you can maximize the remediation process and improve the quality of the soil.

Benefits of Bioremediation

When it comes to bioremediation, there are many benefits to be had.

First and foremost, bioremediation is a more sustainable option than traditional methods of soil remediation. It relies on natural processes, rather than harsh chemicals, to clean up polluted soil.

Second, bioremediation is more efficient than other methods. Microorganisms can break down pollutants much faster than some synthetic chemicals, meaning that less soil needs to be treated to achieve the desired results.

Finally, bioremediation is more affordable than other methods. It is a cost-effective way to clean up polluted soil without using expensive and harmful chemicals.

Challenges of Bioremediation

• One of the major challenges of bioremediation is the rate at which it can take place. Microorganisms can only break down so much pollution at a time, so the process can be slow.

• Most microorganisms are not always able to thrive in polluted soils. This means that the bioremediation process can be unsuccessful if the right microorganisms aren’t present.

• Some pollutants are resistant to biodegradation, meaning that they cannot be broken down by microorganisms. This can be a major obstacle in the bioremediation process.

• Using the wrong species of microbes to treat a specific pollutant might be disastrous. Some microbes break down harmful compounds into more harmful ones and as a result, the effects on the environment can be worse than the initial contamination.

Bottom Line

Soil pollution is a major environmental concern that threatens human health and the environment. Microorganisms can help bioremediate polluted soils by breaking down biomass and toxic compounds. This natural process can improve soil quality and help protect human health and the environment.

References

  1. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bioremediation.asp

  2. https://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Bioremediation

  3. https://thebiologynotes.com/bioremediation/

Author

 Yash Batra

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