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  Section: General Biotechnology / Biotechnology & Environment
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Environmental Biotechnology

The area of polluted soil and water is expanding day by day due to rapid increase in world population. About 100 million people are added to the world population each year. Therefore, more and more industries, food, health care, medicines, vehicles, etc. are required to meet the demand of people. This is possible by involving biotechnology. However, it is probable that the modern biotechnology based on the sophisticated art of genetic engineering could solve all these problems.

The environmental biotechnology employs the application of genetic engineering to improve the efficiency and cost which are central to the future widespread exploitation of microorganisms to reduce the environmental burden of toxic substances. It is hoped that in future the application of microorganisms coupled with genetic engineering techniques will make a major contribution to improve the quality of our environment. However, is there risk associated with release of genetically engineered microorganisms into the environment!

Uses of microorganisms in environmental clean up with special reference to bioremediation types, processes and methods with several examples (e.g. hydrocarbons, heavy metals, dyes, xenobiotics, etc), utilization of sewage and agro-wastes, and the benefits and hazards associated with release of GMMs for our clean environment have been discussed in this section. The benefits expected from the release of GMMs into the environment are summarized in Table 21.1.

Table 21.1. Benefits from release of genetically modified microorganisms into the environment.
A. Protection of environment
      - Bioremediation of polluted environment
B. Control of global environmental process
      - Reversal of land desertification
      - Reversal of green house effect
C. Agriculture

      - Increasing efficiency of plant nutrition
      - Pest control (safe biopesticides)
      - Protection of plants from climatic stress
      - Protection of plants from tumor formation and disease
D. Food Industry
      - Microorganisms producing enzymes for food industry
      - Microorganisms with improved efficiency of fermentation
      - Improved microorganisms for milk industry
E.  Health care
- Microorganisms as live attenuated vaccines
Source: Velkov (1996).




In situ bioremediation


Intrinsic bioremediation


Engineered in situ bioremediation


Ex situ bioremediation


Solid phase system (composting, composting process)


Slurry phase system (aerated laggons, low shear airlift reactor)


Factors affecting slurry phase bioremediation


Bioremediation of hydrocarbon



Use of mixture of bacteria


Use of genetically engineered bacterial strains 


Bioremediation of Industrial wastes


Bioremediation of dyes


Bioremediation of heavy metals


Bioremediation of coal waste through VAM fungi


Bioremediation of xenobiotics


Microbial degradation of xenobiotics


Gene manipulation of pesticide-degrading microorganisms

Utilization of sewage, and agro-wastes


Production of single cell protein


Biogas from sewage


Mushroom production on agro-wastes



Microbial leaching (bioleaching)   


Microorganisms used in leaching


Chemistry of leaching


Direct leaching


Indirect leaching


Leaching process (slope leaching heap leaching in situ leaching)


Examples of bioleaching


Copper leaching



Uranium leaching


Gold and silver leaching


Silica leaching

Hazards of environmental engineering


Survival of released GMMs in the environment


Adaptive mutagenesis in GMMs


Gene transfer from GMMs into other microorganisms


Gene transfer via conjugative transposons


Effect of environmental factors on gene transfer


Ecological impact of GMMs released into the environment


Growth inhibition of natural strains


Growth stimulation of indigenous strains


Replacement of natural strains


Monitoring of GEMs in the environment


Risk assessment of the GEMs released into the environment


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