Future Challenges

Healing the Environment

Microorganisms have kept the living world going for eons by recycling essential materials, yet we still have much to learn about how to take advantage of some of these myriad microbial capacities. Much of what we know about microorganisms has been learned in laboratory settings, where conditions can be controlled and competition between organisms is not the same as in natural environments.

Efforts are under way to carry out field trials, studying populations and the persistence of microorganisms that can degrade chemicals such as oil and pesticides that can accumulate and harm the environment. If populations of these organisms are increased by fertilization of the site, will they persist or become dispersed? Are there unwanted consequences of this increase of one portion of the microbial community? How can these populations be measured accurately? What genes are involved in the desired microbial activities, and can these genes be amplified in the microorganisms? If they are, can the organisms still compete successfully? These and many other questions offer great challenges, but hold out the hope that their answers will make bioremediation an increasingly efficient way to deal with pollution of the environment.

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