Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Eating garbage: Bacteria for bioremediation

Date:
June 25, 2012
Source:
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Summary:
A 150-foot-high garbage dump in Colombia, South America, may have new life as a public park. Researchers have demonstrated that bacteria found in the dump can be used to neutralize the contaminants in the soil.

A 150-foot-high garbage dump in Colombia, South America, may have new life as a public park. Researchers at the University of Illinois have demonstrated that bacteria found in the dump can be used to neutralize the contaminants in the soil.

Related Articles


Jerry Sims, a U of I associate professor of crop sciences and USDA-Agricultural Research Service research leader and Andres Gomez, a graduate student from Medellín, Colombia, have been working on a landfill called "El Morro" in the Moravia Hill neighborhood of Medellín, which served as the city dump from 1972 to 1984. In that period, thousands of people came to the city from the rural areas to escape diverse social problems. There was no housing or employment for them, so they made a living picking up trash from this dump and built their homes upon it.

"There are some frightening pictures of this site on the Internet," said Sims. "At one point, close to 50,000 people lived there. They grew vegetables on the contaminated soil and hand-pumped drinking water out of the garbage hill."

In recent years, the Colombian government decided to relocate the people to different neighborhoods with better conditions. Then they decided to see if it was possible to clean up the area and turn it into a park. Unfortunately, the most reliable solution -- digging up the garbage and treating it -- is not economically feasible in Colombia.

Another problem was that there were no records of exactly what was in the dump.

"Apparently, hydrocarbon compounds were one of the main sources of contamination," said Gomez. "Phenyls, chlorinated biphenyls, and all kinds of compounds that are sometimes very difficult to clean up."

Three professors from The National University of Colombia in Medellin -- Hernan Martinez, Gloria Cadavid-Restrepo and Claudia Moreno -- considered a microbial ecology approach. They designed an experiment to determine whether bioremediation, which uses biological agents such as bacteria or plants to remove or neutralize contaminants, could be used to clean the site.

Gomez, who was working on his master's thesis at the time, collaborated with them. He was charged with finding out if there were microorganisms living in the soil that could feed on the carbon in the most challenging contaminants.

This was not a trivial task. As Sims explained, "There are maybe 10,000 species of bacteria and a similar number of fungi in a gram of soil."

Gomez's work was further complicated by the fact that the material in the hill was loose and porous with air spaces and voids that resulted from dirt being thrown over layers of garbage. Because of the unusual physical structure and the contaminant levels, it was unclear if the indigenous bacterial community would be as complex, and thus as effective at bioremediation, as those normally found in soils.

Gomez analyzed bacteria at different depths in the hill down to 30 meters. He found microbial communities that appeared to have profiles typical of bacteria involved in bioremediation. The communities seemed to contain a robust set of many organisms that could be expected to weather environmental insults or manipulations.

Gomez then came to Sims's lab at the U of I on a grant from the American Society for Microbiology to perform stable isotope probing, a test to link diversity and function that he was not able to do in Colombia. Contaminants are labeled with a heavy isotope that serves as a tracer that can be detected in the end products of biodegradation.

His results confirmed that the bacterial communities had, in fact, been carrying out bioremediation functions. In collaboration with assistant professor of microbial ecology Tony Yannarell who assisted with the microbial diversity analysis, he determined that the organisms involved changed at every depth.

Based on these results, the Colombian government decided to go ahead with the bioremediation project using the indigenous organisms. One of the professors who worked on the pilot study is looking at ways to provide the microorganisms with extra nutrients to speed up the process. Another project takes a phytoremediation approach, which uses plants to absorb heavy metals.

Gomez has gone back to his first love, animal microbiology. While he was at U of I, he met animal sciences professor Bryan White and is now working on a Ph.D. studying the microflora of primates.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Andres M. Gomez, Anthony C. Yannarell, Gerald K. Sims, Gloria Cadavid-Resterpo and Claudia X. Moreno Herrera. Characterization of bacterial diversity at different depths in the Moravia Hill landfill site at Medellín, Colombia. Journal of Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 2011

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. "Eating garbage: Bacteria for bioremediation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120625165449.htm>.
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. (2012, June 25). Eating garbage: Bacteria for bioremediation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120625165449.htm
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. "Eating garbage: Bacteria for bioremediation." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120625165449.htm (accessed November 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Buzz60 (Oct. 31, 2014) — For its nature series Life Story, the BBC profiled the barnacle goose, whose chicks must make a daredevil 400-foot cliff dive from their nests to find food. Jen Markham has the astonishing video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) — The import of salamanders around the globe is thought to be contributing to the spread of a deadly fungus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) — A health group in the United Kingdom has called for mandatory calorie labels on alcoholic beverages in the European Union. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

AFP (Oct. 31, 2014) — Focus on treating the Ebola epidemic in Liberia means that treatment for malaria, itself a killer, is hard to come by. MSF are now undertaking the mass distribution of antimalarials in Monrovia. Duration: 00:38 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins