Researchers are continuously discovering the incredible abilities of microorganisms. Below are just six examples of how microorganisms can improve our lives and even cleanup man-made messes.
1. Oil-spill cleanup crew
BP’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was an extraordinary environmental disaster, but we can thank microorganisms including Colwellia, Cycloclasticus, Oceanospirillales, Alcanovorax and Methylococcaceae for keeping the spill from leaving an even greater impact. Hydrocarbon molecules in natural gas are small and easy to degrade allowing microorganisms to “eat up” much of the gas. A bacterial bloom instigated by ocean currents turned millions of barrels of oil into an estimated 100 sextillion microbial cells.
2. Fashionable fungi
Incorporating microorganisms could be the next big thing in the clothing industry. An article by Vice highlighted biofabricated textiles made from living microorganisms or cells like genetically modified yeasts and fabrics full of bacteria. The aim of biofabricated textiles is to create materials that are more sustainable than what is commonly used in clothing today: plant-based fibers and synthetic fibers made from petroleum.
Keeping athletes cool by adding non-pathogenic Escherichia coli to workout clothes is the goal of a team of MIT researchers. The project, know as bioLogic, has created a “breathable workout suit with ventilating flaps that open and close in response to an athlete’s body heat and sweat,” according to an MIT news release. Read the full Washington Post article about bioLogic and watch the video below to learn how the clothing works.
3. Producing biofuel and bioproducts
According to Science Daily, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Joint BioEnergy Institute have “developed an alternative fatty acid synthase (FAS) system in which enzymes from other organisms work with the native FAS in E. coli to improve the microbe’s capacity for chemical production.” The good news is microbial synthesis of chemicals and fuels is more sustainable than generation from petroleum, plant and animal sources. Read the full story from Science Daily.
Biotech companies like BioAmber are already using microorganisms to help create sustainable chemicals. The company produces chemicals by way of fermentation to be used in plastics, food additives and personal care products.
4. Composting toilets – turning human waste into plant food
Have you ever considered building a tiny house or converting an old school bus to an RV? A composting toilet may be the best solutions for your bathroom. Properly maintained composting toilets have the right balance of oxygen, moisture, heat and organic material resulting in the perfect environment for aerobic bacteria to turn waste into pathogen-free fertilizer. Read this post from letsgogreen.com to learn more about the composting process.
Plastic pollution is a daunting global issue. The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Last year, scientists in Japan announced they discovered a strain of bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, that can break down the most commonly used plastic, Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This research provides some hope that solutions to combat plastic pollution can be developed. The full article was published in the journal Science.
6. Biocleaning wall painting with Pseudomonas
To remove harmful animal glue layers applied during past restorations, some wall painting restorers have turned to biocleaning. A combination of Pseudomonas stutzeri A29 strain and proteolytic enzymes was used to remove 95% of animal glue on the Camposanto Frescoes of Pisa, Italy, with no negative effects from the biocleaning technique. Read the full article in Chemistry Today to learn more.
Have you heard of other amazing accomplishments by microorganisms? Share a link in the comments section below.