News: A team of Argentine scientists is using microorganisms native to Antarctica to explore the idea of cleaning up pollution from fuels and, potentially, plastics in the pristine expanses of the white continent. The continent is protected by a 1961 Madrid Protocol that stipulates it must be kept in a pristine state. Over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications. At least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments.
- The researchers collected samples of plastic from the Antarctic seas and studied to see if the microorganisms are eating the plastics or simply using them as rafts. The team carried out bioremediation tasks.
- The team helped the microbes with nitrogen, humidity and aeration to optimize their conditions.
- This work uses the potential of native microorganisms – bacteria and fungi that inhabit the Antarctic soil, even when it is contaminated – and make these microorganisms eat the hydrocarbons.
- The tiny microbes munch through the waste, creating a naturally occurring cleaning system for pollution caused by diesel that is used as a source of electricity and heat for research bases in the frozen Antarctic. The research on how the microbes could help with plastic waste could have potential for wider environmental issues.
What is Bioremediation?
- It is a branch of biotechnology that employs the use of living organisms, like microbes and bacteria, in the removal of contaminants, pollutants, and toxins from soil, water, and other environments.
- Bioremediation is used to clean up oil spills or contaminated groundwater.
- Bioremediation may be done “in situ”–at the site of the contamination–or “ex situ”–away from the site.
- By relying solely on natural processes, it minimizes damage to ecosystems.
- Bioremediation often takes place underground, where amendments and microbes can be pumped in order to clean up contaminants in groundwater and soil. Consequently, bioremediation does not disrupt nearby communities as much as other cleanup methodologies.
- “Amendments” to the environment, such as molasses, vegetable oil, or simple air optimize conditions for microbes to flourish, thereby accelerating the completion of the bioremediation process.
- The bioremediation process creates relatively few harmful byproducts(mainly due to the fact that contaminants and pollutants are converted into water and harmless gases like carbon dioxide). Bioremediation is cheaper than most cleanup methods because it does not require substantial equipment or labor.