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Probiotics for the Planet’s Polluted Plumbing

Credit: Eraxion/iStock

Credit: Eraxion/iStock

By Matthew Lee & Mike Manefield

Imagine a world where billions of tiny creatures were deployed in the environment to degrade industrial pollutants that contaminate the world’s crucial groundwater reserves.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Fresh water is one of the most precious resources on Earth. The vast majority of fresh water sits below ground in aquifers, from which it is sourced for human consumption and agriculture in many parts of the world. Keeping this precious resource clean from contamination is a crucial concern.

We have been developing ways to use microbes to clean up contaminated water, and recently cracked one of the world’s most difficult chemical pollution problems: breaking down the toxic organochlorine chloroform. Not only have we discovered bacteria that can do the job, but we’ve also found how to get them to work eight times more efficiently than normal.

Organochlorines are a group of chemicals that have been mass-produced by humankind since the 1960s because their volatility, low solubility, high density and stability make them very useful for manufacturing plastics, rubber and refrigerants, degreasing engines and dry cleaning clothes.

Unfortunately, owing to poor handling and improper disposal, organochlorines routinely find their way into aquifers and contaminate groundwater. Here the properties that make them so useful are the same that make them a nightmare in the environment. Because of their low solubility and stability they take centuries to break down. Because of their density they sink to the bottom of aquifers and are hard to access. Because of their...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.