Beneficial Microorganisms and the Environment
By Clifford Woods
Our culture has become obsessed with eliminating bacteria; using gels and wipes to kill all the microbes that we have associated with illness, infection and death. But there are many types of microbes that are beneficial, which are helpful, even helping us in our fight against global warming by breaking down plastics and cleaning up pollution. Someday perhaps even developing into a cure for cancer.
Beneficial Microorganisms: Bacteria or microbes are everywhere in our world, and their presence of course has an effect on the environment they are living in. These effects of microbes on our environment may be beneficial or harmful, with some having no effect on humans at all.
Beneficial Applications: Outside the body, microorganisms are used widely in various applications that are beneficial, including pest control, food, as well as symbiosis of plants and stimulation of growth.
Oil Spills: There are assorted types of bacteria that can clean up the environment when major petroleum spills happen. There is a specific strain of bacteria called Alcanivorax that will quickly increase in population whenever an oil spill offers for them, large amounts of food, and they are able to remove much of the oil from these spills.
They were at work in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deep Water Horizon spill and are probably still there to help undo the damage that was done to the Gulf. Because they are able to help in this area, they provide an effect that is beneficial to our environment. This incident brought to the attention of scientists even more beneficial microorganisms that feed on oil than originally first thought. It is estimated that the annual seepage in the Gulf of oil is 140,000 tons and these microorganisms take care of that.
Produce Electricity: There are still other forms of bacteria having tiny wire appendages referred to as nano-wires and they not only digest toxic waste including PCBs and chemical solvents, they can also produce electricity while they are digesting the toxic waste. One bacterium, called Shewanella, is a type of microorganism from the deep-sea that grows these nano-wires that seek oxygen when placed in low-oxygen environments.
Experts discovered that when the nano-wires are pricked with electrodes of platinum, they are able to carry a current. If these capabilities are harnessed effectively, they one day could be used in sewage treatment facilities to not only digest waste, but at the same time provide the power for the plant. There is currently no analytic on this form of bacteria.
Bacteria and Plastics: Non-biodegradable and far too present on our planet, plastic becomes a great problem when it comes to disposal. But in 2008, a student in Canada carried out an amazing science experiment where microorganisms were able to eat plastic. Since that time, research teams have been working on the development of this ability and how to use it to our benefit. At the University of Dublin, a professor got these bacteria to metabolize plastic bottles that were cooked down into a new type of plastic that is biodegradable.
On Their Own: In the earlier part of the year, experts discovered that beneficial microorganisms were already breaking down plastics in the world’s oceans on its own, but it has not been shown whether this will have a negative or positive effect on the environment.
Some items such as fishing line as well as plastic bags are being devoured by these bacteria; the problem is that this waste could have potential harmful effects to ecosystems in the ocean as it travels up the food chain.
These are just several different ways that microorganisms are being beneficial to our environment. However, there is a greater need of research in the area.