Microbiome EngineeringEnvironmental Biotechnology Challenge:
Enable better, more advanced bioremediation of pollutants.
Engineered environmental microbiomes to detect and respond to contaminants or spills.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer oil-consuming microbiomes that proliferate and chemotax towards chemicals used for contaminant cleanup (e.g., surfactants, dispersants) to improve biocontainment in ocean environments.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes for bioremediation that can clean up oil spills with a self-contained, single application (e.g., secrete surfactants, produce sorbent extracellular matrices, and fully degrade oils) to decrease cost and increase efficacy of cleanup.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes that can metabolize toxic chemical compounds to help neutralize or detoxify them in situ.
- Technical Achievement: Create modular microbiomes that contain environment-specific species to help the bioremediating organisms colonize any location where a spill occurs.
Design microbiomes that facilitate degradation or removal of plastics.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes that alter their composition for efficient plastic degradation in both aerobic and anaerobic environments.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes that concentrate ocean microplastics in the ocean, so they can be physically removed and degraded or recycled using alternative methods.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes to consume methane produced from plastic degradation in anaerobic environments.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes that generate oxygen and prevent methane production from plastic degradation.
Engineer microbiomes to breakdown pharmaceutical products (e.g., antibiotics) to prevent active components from being distributed into the environment.
- Technical Achievement: Design microbiomes that have antibiotic resistance genes to breakdown compounds, but are synthetically dependent on the compound for survival to reduce the spread of resistance genes.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiome filters that can be evolved to selectively remove/degrade compounds from the environment, based on the compound of interest and metabolites available in the environment.
Enable efficient treatment of chemical waste and contaminants (e.g., heavy metals, rare-earth metals, radioactive materials, halogenated hydrocarbon mixtures).
Engineer microbial communities such that waste and contaminants are efficiently biomined and concentrated into useful compounds.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes to produce an easily detectable indicator (e.g., color change) in the presence of pollutants.
- Technical Achievement: Design metabolic models to trace the dissemination of waste and contaminant breakdown products within ecological communities.
Recycle radioactive products so that they can be reused for nuclear energy or facilitate radioactive waste degradation in the environment.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes to produce radioisotope-specific enzymes that capture and concentrate radioactive material more quickly from contaminated environments.1Martinez-Gomez, N. C., Vu, H. N., & Skovran, E. (2016). Lanthanide Chemistry: From Coordination in Chemical Complexes Shaping Our Technology to Coordination in Enzymes Shaping Bacterial Metabolism. Inorganic Chemistry, 55(20), 10083–10089. View Publication
- Technical Achievement: Engineer radiation-resistant microbiomes that fully detoxify solvents found in nuclear waste (e.g., by fully degrading trichloroethylene into ethene under aerobic and anaerobic conditions).
- Technical Achievement: Design universal support microbiomes that evolve in inhospitable environments to produce nutrients for keystone bioremediation species (e.g., Dehalococcoides spp., Deinococcus radiodurans) to reduce the need for small-scale testing.
Engineer magnetic microbiomes for improved extraction and bioremediation of rare-earth metals.
- Technical Achievement: Produce microbiomes that facilitate growth of lanthanide-binding methylotrophs capable of extracting rare-earth elements at extremely low concentration.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer aerobic microbiomes containing rare-earth element-binding enzymes from methylotrophs, so bioconcentration can occur at environmental sites.
Engineer microbiomes to degrade halogenated hydrocarbon (e.g., tetrahloroethylene, methylene chloride, Freon) mixtures.
- Technical Achievement: Determine metabolic pathway maps halogenated hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria (e.g., Desulfitobacterium hafniense) to identify key enzymes involved in degradation.
- Technical Achievement: Design microbiomes that specifically support the metabolic needs (e.g., nutrients, cofactors, reducing equivalents) of halocarbon-degrading bacteria to facilitate faster waste disposal.
Enable higher efficiency water purification, reclamation, and desalination.
Engineering microbiomes to increase efficiency of water desalination (e.g., decrease cost and maintenance required).
- Technical Achievement: Engineer halophilic microbiome coatings that prevent biofouling and reduce chemical use in desalination processes.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes to purify or concentrate waste brine to facilitate more environmentally-friendly methods for disposing of waste.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer halophilic microbes capable of extracellular electron transfer (anode) and extracellular electron uptake (cathode) to decrease energy cost of desalination.
Use microbiomes to improve water treatment processes.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes that attract and capture fecal coliforms to facilitate coagulation, flocculation, and sedimentation.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes to function as biosensors for water impurities (e.g., viruses, metals, small molecule contaminants).
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes that can transform municipal waste into energy or higher-value products.
Engineer microbiomes that reduce the chemical impact of ocean or river aquaculture on the surrounding environment.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer ocean microbiomes that capture and degrade fish waste and chemical effluent in the pelagic zone, to increase concentrations of dissolved organic matter.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer microbiomes that help fish resist pathogens and disease to decrease antibiotic use in aquaculture.
- Technical Achievement: Engineer soil and water microbiomes to absorb and retain excess nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium from agricultural runoff.
- Martinez-Gomez, N. C., Vu, H. N., & Skovran, E. (2016). Lanthanide Chemistry: From Coordination in Chemical Complexes Shaping Our Technology to Coordination in Enzymes Shaping Bacterial Metabolism. Inorganic Chemistry, 55(20), 10083–10089. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.inorgchem.6b00919
Last updated: October 1, 2020 Back