Bioremediation with Simultaneous Recovery and Reuse of Resources


Chemical industries are vital to the global economy, employ the billions and produce more than 140,000 different products. The products include those derived from the processing of organic or inorganic raw materials to everyday life and modern products. These industries process organic or inorganic materials from the Earth with heat, air and water to make chemicals and products that drive modern economies. There are suggestions that the physical limits of minerals and metals, the two important Earth resources for the chemical industries have been reached. The ‘building block’ or ‘bulk’ chemicals such as benzene, chlorine, toluene and propylene are used to make highly refined ‘intermediate’ chemicals that are essential inputs for the consumer products such as glass, steel and paper. Intermediate chemicals are processed and combined with one another to make “specialty” chemicals, which include agricultural chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers.  

The relationships between chemical production and consumption within these industries are highly complex. The global chemical output can be more than US$ 4.12 trillion, which have greater influences on human employment, trade and economic growth. More importantly, the patterns of distribution, production and use of chemical substances have consequences for environmental health. Each year, about 700 new chemicals are listed in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) inventory of US Environmental Protection Agency. Several microorganisms are capable of mediating oxidative and reductive processes which are useful for their survival and adaptation in the toxic environments.

These microorganisms can be isolated and used as biocatalysts for the recovery of resources. Efforts are on to program the dynamics of individual populations and their activities related to the specific applications. Nevetheless, the natural consortia of microorganisms are selected and used in dairy industries, and beer and wine fermentation for several millennia. Since the naturally occurring microbial consortia endure and do better than the monocultures, the engineering of synthetic microbial consortia can become an innovative strategy for the remediation of contaminated environments with simultaneous recovery of resources.

The success of microbial consortia has been attributed to the division of labor across organisms. Inorganic material recognition and binding abilities of microbial metabolites such as protein/peptide molecules can be taken advantage for mining metals and metalloids that are present in wastes or in the natural materials. This necessitates a better understanding of the microbial interactions and the molecular mechanisms such as the regulation of interspecific signalling processes and spatial structuring of communities, especially for the optimal design of synthetic microbial consortia.

Aaron Province
Journal of Bioremediation and Biodegradation
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