When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in March 1989, spilling millions of gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, it precipitated one of the largest bioremediation projects ever undertaken. A team of scientists from Exxon Corp., the Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of Alaska infused the contaminated beaches with nutrients to speed the growth of native oil-eating microbes, accelerating their metabolism of oil. Exxon and EPA cleaned miles of beaches, and they generated a wealth of information for those looking at new ways to clean up hazardous wastes.

Many other companies are also turning to the use of microorganisms, particularly bacteria, in environmental applications such as bioremediation and producing clean fuels. Biological treatment of hazardous wastes--using bacteria to break down these wastes into compounds with reduced toxicity--is appealing because it is a lower-cost alternative to technologies like incineration or extraction of the hazardous material from contaminated soil...

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