Engineering Biology for Climate & Sustainability
Mitigating Environmental Pollution Goal:
Mitigate pollutants from human-generated waste streams.
More detail about upcycling chemicals and materials can be found in Materials Production & Industrial Processes.
Efficient biodegradation could prove especially useful for breaking down hydrocarbons (e.g., plastics and oils) and removing harmful chemicals from human-generated waste streams, before they reach the larger environment. For water treatment, in particular, biobased systems have been developed to capture fecal coliforms, degrade nutrient runoff from agriculture and aquaculture (e.g., fish waste and feed), and clean up fluorinated compounds. Future advances in biodegradation could enable higher efficiency water purification, reclamation, and even desalination (such as occurs with mangrove trees, see Wang et al., 2020b), where halophilic bacteria could be incorporated into the desalination process to prevent biofouling and reduce chemical use. While some non-model organisms can grow on and process pollutants, more research is needed to identify novel organisms that can handle harsh and polluted environments., In addition to removing pollutants from waste streams, engineering biology can take the process further and upcycle pollutants by converting them into useful products.,
Breakthrough Capabilities & Milestones
Enable the bioremediation of contaminants from municipal wastewater.
Enable scale-up of highly-efficient, engineered microalgae bioremediation of municipal wastewater.*
Develop biological systems to capture waterborne pathogens (e.g., fecal coliforms).
Engineer microbes/microbial consortia and enzymes that degrade and/or capture excess pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors (e.g., hormones from birth control, pesticide metabolites) in municipal wastewater.**
Engineer microbes that can remove lubricants and fuels from municipal wastewater.
Engineer biobased filters for inorganic pollutant removal, for example to desalinate water and remove microplastics.
Engineer microbial conversion of municipal wastewater contaminants into value-added products.
Engineer living biofilms to continuously capture broad classes of pollutants in potable water streams.
*Do, C. V. T., Pham, M. H. T., Pham, T. Y. T., Dinh, C. T., Bui, T. U. T., Tran, T. D., & Nguyen, V. T. (2022). Microalgae and bioremediation of domestic wastewater. Current Opinion in Green and Sustainable Chemistry, 34, 100595. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogsc.2022.100595
**Gavrilescu, M., Demnerová, K., Aamand, J., Agathos, S., & Fava, F. (2015). Emerging pollutants in the environment: Present and future challenges in biomonitoring, ecological risks and bioremediation. New Biotechnology, 32(1), 147–156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbt.2014.01.001
Enable the bioremediation of pollutants from agriculture and aquaculture.
Engineer soil microbes to sequester and concentrate inorganic contaminants in the soil column (for example, microbially induced calcite precipitation).
Engineer plants to detect soil contamination through interactions with the rhizosphere and produce a visible output of contamination status.
Engineer microbes, microbiomes, cell-free systems, or biomaterials designed to target and capture nitrogen, phosphate, and calcium runoff from synthetic fertilizers.
Engineer microbes, cell-free systems, or biomaterials that target, capture, and degrade agricultural/aquacultural antibiotics and insecticide contaminants.
Enable biological recycling of captured runoff nutrients for new fertilizers.
Engineer macroalgae to bind and degrade toxins in marine environments.
Engineer bioremediating microbes, microbiomes, cell-free systems, or biomaterials with programmable lifespans for agricultural and aquacultural environments.
For biotechnologies for reducing agricultural runoff (through more effective biofertilizers and more efficient crop uptake of nutrients), please see the Food & Agriculture theme.
Enable the bioremediation of chemical waste from industrial effluent.
Enable in silico prediction of biodegradation pathways for toxic chemical compounds.
Identify and engineer microbes to biodegrade hazardous chemicals (for example, phenols, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, hydrocarbons, heavy metals).
Design cell-free systems to degrade toxic waste chemicals generated from chemical production.
Incorporate engineered microbial or cell-free systems into chemical production processes to degrade toxic waste chemicals in situ.
Enable valorization of breakdown products and waste, such as via directly-coupled bioenergy generation or high-value product synthesis from engineered remediation organisms.
- Li, X., Yang, C., Zeng, G., Wu, S., Lin, Y., Zhou, Q., Lou, W., Du, C., Nie, L., & Zhong, Y. (2020). Nutrient removal from swine wastewater with growing microalgae at various zinc concentrations. Algal Research, 46, 101804. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.algal.2020.101804
- Coppola, D., Lauritano, C., Palma Esposito, F., Riccio, G., Rizzo, C., & de Pascale, D. (2021). Fish Waste: From Problem to Valuable Resource. Marine Drugs, 19(2), 116. https://doi.org/10.3390/md19020116
- Ferrando, L., & Matamoros, V. (2020). Attenuation of nitrates, antibiotics and pesticides from groundwater using immobilised microalgae-based systems. Science of The Total Environment, 703, 134740. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134740
- Moreira, I. S., Amorim, C. L., Murphy, C. D., & Castro, P. M. L. (2018). Strategies for Biodegradation of Fluorinated Compounds. In R. Prasad & E. Aranda (Eds.), Approaches in Bioremediation: The New Era of Environmental Microbiology and Nanobiotechnology (pp. 239–280). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-02369-0_11
- Wang, Y., Lee, J., Werber, J. R., & Elimelech, M. (2020b). Capillary-driven desalination in a synthetic mangrove. Science Advances, 6(8), eaax5253. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aax5253
- Sysoev, M., Grötzinger, S. W., Renn, D., Eppinger, J., Rueping, M., & Karan, R. (2021). Bioprospecting of Novel Extremozymes From Prokaryotes—The Advent of Culture-Independent Methods. Frontiers in Microbiology, 12, 196. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2021.630013
- Yun, S. H., Choi, C.-W., Lee, S.-Y., Park, E. C., & Kim, S. I. (2016). A Proteomics Approach for the Identification of Novel Proteins in Extremophiles. In P. H. Rampelotto (Ed.), Biotechnology of Extremophiles: Advances and Challenges (pp. 303–319). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-13521-2_10
- Cornwall. (2021). Could plastic-eating microbes take a bite out of the recycling problem? Science. https://www.science.org/content/article/could-plastic-eating-microbes-take-bite-out-recycling-problem
- Lad, B. C., Coleman, S. M., & Alper, H. S. (2022). Microbial valorization of underutilized and nonconventional waste streams. Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, 49(2), kuab056. https://doi.org/10.1093/jimb/kuab056
- Aggarwal, C., Singh, D., Soni, H., & Pal, A. (2021). Heterotrophic Cultivation of Microalgae in Wastewater. In A. Kumar, A. Pal, S. S. Kachhwaha, & P. K. Jain (Eds.), Recent Advances in Mechanical Engineering (pp. 493–506). Springer Nature. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-9678-0_43
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- Ariste, A. F., & Cabana, H. (2020). Challenges in Applying Cross-Linked Laccase Aggregates in Bioremediation of Emerging Contaminants from Municipal Wastewater. In D. Schlosser (Ed.), Laccases in Bioremediation and Waste Valorisation (pp. 147–171). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47906-0_6
- Rojo, F. (2009). Degradation of alkanes by bacteria. Environmental Microbiology, 11(10), 2477–2490. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1462-2920.2009.01948.x
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Last updated: September 19, 2022