Bioremediation is the use of biological processes to improve a specific environment, such as by the removal of a pollutant.
Perhaps the biggest problem facing the developed world at the start of the twenty first century is that of pollution of the environment. Our dependence on the products of the chemical industries has resulted in the production of vast amounts of toxic waste material. One way of dealing with such (mostly organic) waste is to encourage the growth of bacteria and fungi that are able to oxidise the pollutants, a process known as bioremediation. Elsewhere in this book we have seen how microorganisms are able to utilise an enormous range of organic compounds as carbon sources; the Gram-negative bacterium Burkholderia cepacia can use over 100 such compounds. Many organisms can metabolise not only naturally occurring substances, but also synthetic ones, making them valuable allies in the process of bioremediation. Often the most effective microorganisms to use are those found living naturally at the contaminated site, since they have demonstrated the ability to survive the toxic effects of the pollutant, although in other cases specially adapted or genetically modified bacteria may be introduced (bioaugmentation). Examples of the use of microorganisms include the treatment of toxic waste sites, chemical spills, pesticides in groundwater and oil spills. One of the first successful applications of biore-mediation came in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 when thousands of tons of crude oil were released off the coast of Alaska. Depending on the circumstances, bioremediation procedures may occur
Bioaugmentation is the deliberate introduction of specific microorganisms to an environment in order to assist in biore-mediation.
in situ, or the contaminated soil or water may be removed to a specialist facility for treatment.
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