It goes without saying that the scope of biotechnology is widening with every passing day. This is largely because more and more intensive research in this field has given birth to new ideas, innovations and need of approaching new philosophies and new allied fields to make the maximum use of biotechnological methodologies and tools for the benefit of mankind. As far as the use of biotechnology in the fields of genetics, breeding, agriculture, animal husbandry, tissue culture and cloning is concerned, this is quite known and common now. However, another exciting and comparatively ewer field of biotechnology where it has shown an immense progress and productivity over a very short period of time is environmental biotechnology. Environmental biotechnology As a matter of fact, environmental biology deals with the application of biotechnological methodologies to make use of living organisms and living systems for the remediation of environmental pollution ensuring a clean and human friendly environment. This means that on one hand this area of science cleans and repairs the damaged environment, and on the other it reduces the hazardous implications of technological processes and renders them environmental friendly.Environmental biotechnological techniques make use of microorganisms and plants, and thereby preserve energy.
A conventional example of the use of environmental biotechnology is the release of guppy fish in ponds and lakes. Guppy fish eats mosquitoes and its larvae. This reduces mosquito population in the respective area and helps contain malaria, dengue and other diseaseswhichare dependent on mosquitoes for their spread.
Another technique makes use of microorganisms to extract heavy metals from low grade ores. Chemoautotrophic bacteria derive energy from the breakdown of inorganic chemicals, which in this case are ores of heavy metals. The action of such bacteria on these ores releases the metal itself. It is also an example of symbioses, where the bacteria derive their energy from the breakdown of ore and release useful heavy metals. This reiterates the fact that environmental biotechnology serves to preserve energy and resources. Copper, uranium, cobalt, lead, nickel and gold can be extracted in this way. Thiobacillusferrioxidans is used to extract copper and uranium.
Some species of bacteria also accumulate metals. This property enables them to be used in both, the extraction of metals, as well as detoxification of waste. For example some species of Pseudomonas accumulate mercury and uranium, while those of Thiobacillus accumulate silver.
Another useful implication of environmental biotechnology, and a major one at that, is bioremediation. It is defined as the use of biological agents, such as bacteria or plants, to remove or neutralize contaminants in polluted soil or water. This technique usually breaks down the pollutants into smaller harmless compounds such as water and carbon dioxide. However, depending on the various types and nature of processes used it can also be used to produce methane and hydrogen, which are very valuable and highly worthy fuels. This takes place under the especially maintained anaerobic conditions and therefore bacteria that thrive best under such conditions are selectively used for the purpose. Bioremediation is used to clean oil spills and beaches; treat sewage water and decontaminate soil, air and water.
Apart from this, environmental biotechnology has helped to make paper and plastic industries environmental friendly. It has introduced biological organisms and microbes in place of compounds that are costly, consume a lot of energy and cause pollution if they escape into the environment. For example, when a lignin degrading and modifying enzyme isolated from a fungus was used in pulp processes, it reduced energy costs,increased the life of the system and reduced the risks associated with bleach.Likewise, in plastic industry glucose is replacing ethylene and propylene as raw material, and microbes are being used to convert it into alkene oxides.
However, with its vast area of applications and so many advantages, environmental biotechnology also poses some complications. Microorganisms used in the aforementioned techniques are more often than not genetically engineered to make the processes efficient. Such organisms being genetically different form their natural contemporaries pose a threat to the balance of the ecosystem. Thus it can be concluded in a very fair and confident way that environmental biotechnology has some very promising and extremely production future concerns associated with the environmental remediation of our planet.
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