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(home) Engineering Our Crops | Silicon and Cells (to Puzzle)

Microbes play an important role in every ecosystem. Without their constant work, an ecosystem would cease to function and die. Besides keeping it healthy, microbes can also repair a damaged ecosystem, consuming foreign and harmful substances and replacing them with beneficial byproducts.

Terry Hazen is a scientist using nature to cure itself. He is an expert in bioremediation -- the use of microbes to clean up contamination.

One of his projects was the federal government's 310-square-mile Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. SRS is one of the most polluted tracts of land in the United States. At the site, radioactive materials for America's nuclear weapons were made for over four decades. Solvents used in the process and stored in tanks were routinely transported through pipes buried underground. The pipes developed leaks, and the solvents seeped underground.

Usually, chlorinated solvents are very difficult to clean-up, but Hazen tried a new tactic. He enlisted the help of microbe that is already available in the soil. Methanotrophs, microbes which thrive in methane gas, naturally consume contaminants, but they usually exist in small numbers. Hazen increased the population of methanotrophs in the soil of SRS by pumping methane gas through pipes leading to the contaminated soil. The microbe population began to grow and biodegrade the contaminants in the soil.

When the soil is no longer contaminated, all Hazen has to do is stop pumping the methane. The microbes die back to natural levels. It's an effective but low tech solution.

(home) Engineering Our Crops | Silicon and Cells (to Puzzle)



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