As the necessity of cleaning up the environment moves to the forefront of the public's consciousness, researchers in increasing numbers have been enlisting some of the earth's tiniest creatures to help clean up highly polluted sites and reclaim soils and groundwater systems. Stimulated by advances in microbiology and biotechnology, the booming multidisciplinary field of environmental biotechnology focuses on the use of microorganisms to treat or degrade hazardous waste, encompassing the techniques of bioremediation, bioreclamation, and biodegradation.

The growth potential of the field is unquestionably high, says Ralph Portier, associate professor of environmental toxicology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. "As we continue to look at Superfund [toxic waste cleanup] sites, and as corporations continue to dismantle old facilities and rebuild on the same sites, we'll keep finding new roles and applications for bioremediation that we hadn't anticipated," says Portier, one of the many investigators participating in this research area....

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