Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Cleaning-Up": Pollution eating bacteria give new hope to future.

Bacteria are given a bad reputation for causing disease, infections, etc... Although this isn't entirely untrue, without bacteria many of the processes/cycles that occur in nature, and with in our bodies, would not take place without the aid of bacteria. Not only this, bacteria proves its efficiency by being able to "clean-up" our polluted planet. Although this is not an entirely new concept, it is now being researched and taken advantage more as our planet is becoming overwhelmingly polluted. There are many different bacteria that have the ability to break down toxic chemicals/pollutants, inflicted on the environment by its most ignorant inhabitants. Humans of course! Bacteria can be used to clean-up contamination of groundwater, soil, and ozone due to: the disposal/use of industrial solvents, gasoline, and other toxic chemicals, as well as oil spills and mining.
TCA1, Dehalococcoides Ethenogenes, Pseudomonas, Rhodococcus...These are just a few of the bacteria used individually, or in a consortium (mix of bacteria), to help rid the environment of some of the deadly toxins, and/or help degrade these toxins to less toxic compounds.
TCA1 breaks down trichloroethane (TCA) to a less toxic substance. TCA is a widely used industrial solvent found in products like degreaser and cleaner for metals, drycleaner and spot remover,propellant in aerosol cans, etc...It contaminates soil, ground water, and when airborne can erode the ozone layer.
Dehalococcoides Ethenogenes detoxifies carcinogenic chemicals such as perchloroethylene (PCE), and trichloroethylene (TCE), to a less toxic compound by dechloronation. PCE and TCE are found in industrial cleaners, and due to their disposal methods, are one of the worst organic groundwater pollutants.
Pseudomonas can work individually or in a consortium with Rhodococcus. Individually pseudomonoas degrade pre-dissolved benzene, toluene, and p-xylene (BTX). BTX is used for industrial purposes as well as for components in gasoline. In a consortium (mix of both along with other bacteria), the two bacteria help to degrade oil pollution due to oil spills. As much as 29 million gallons of petroleum enter the North American ocean waters each year alone; 85% of this is from land-based run-off, polluted rivers, airplanes, small boats and jet skis...all from human activities, while only 8% is actually from oil spills. Approximately another 47 million gallons comes naturally from the sea floor. The effects of oil pollution range from damage to marine life and the ocean environment, all the way to crippling a society based on profiting off of the ocean (tourism, fishing, etc...).
Along side oil pollution, pollution from mining also poses a serious threat to the environment (mainly by contamintating water from run-off); the most hazardous type in BC being Acid Mining. Acid mine drainage produces sulphuric acid, which leads to acid rain as well as acidic water unable to support life. Mining of all types can also lead to heavy metal contamination of water due to leaching (leaching is accelerated in the presence of acidity), contamination by chemicals (cyanide and sulphuric acid) used to separate minerals from ore, and contamination from sediment due to erosion of exposed earth. The problem may be partially solved. Newly discovered extremophile, "mineral-loving", bacteria can be used not only to help mine the metals, but also to clean up corrosive acid pollution byproducts of mining.
These are just a few examples of how bacteria can benefit our environment when it comes to ridding the planet of pollution. Although there are clear advantages to using bacteria in the case of pollution, whether it be pollution from the present or past, should we really continue to pollute the way we do and rely on other microorganisms to clean up after us? Or should we get to the root of the problem by trying to find more efficient, "environmentally friendly" ways to go about living? That way we can all enjoy a happier, healthier planet...and not just for the present, perhaps for the future too!



Picture is taken by me.

1 comment:

Dominic B. said...

QUite instructive as a blog. Very dense and interesting!