Using Microbes to Biodegrade All Waste
Since the discovery of microbes, mankind has always wondered about their functions and possible uses. Scientists already understand most of the reasons why and how microbes sustain life, but scientists are now able to manipulate particular types of bacteria to biodegrade particular types of wastes. Using this procedure, scientists are now able to reduce some of the environmental waste problems. Scientists are still unable to biodegrade all types of wastes with microbes and bacteria, however scientists are also now able to mutate or modify some species of bacteria to create new species that hopefully will one day result in bacteria that will safely consume and breakdown any undesirable waste.
In 1675, Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), a Dutch draper, was the first man to discover microbes. Antony van Leeuwenhoek discovered these microbes due to the fact, that he had some sort of tooth problem that caused him intense pain. He therefore quite painfully removed the problem tooth. Once the tooth was removed, he noticed that the tooth was unusually hollow with tiny holes throughout it (Sagan 3). Leeuwenhoek using his own hand-made microscope, discovered living organisms which moved at phenomenal fast speeds that lived inside his hollow tooth. He later called these organisms "animalcules," because he thought of these microbes as minute animals (Sagan 4). Once called "animalcules" by Leeuwenhoek, scientists quickly changed this name to what is now called "microorganisms" or "microbes", which today means microscopic living life forms not visible to the naked eye (Gamlin 35). It was later I earned that these microbes, could be used in medicine, industry, science, and in biosphere technology (Sagan 4). Blue-green and other forms of nitrogen fixing bacteria fertilize soil for agriculture. Most photosynthetic organisms (like plants, algae, some bacteria, and fungi) break down solid rock, turning them into fertile soil (Sagan 5). Leeuwenhoek was also the first person to notice that these microbes could be either docile or destructive organisms, to the other microbes surrounding it, but other scientists took little note of this discovery (Sagan 4).
Microbes have been in existence for millions of years, and also the most dominant and abundant lifeform in this biosphere (Sagan 5). Bacteria is known to be located everywhere there is life, because of their ability to live more comfortably than protoctists and fungi in extreme conditions that appear all over the Earth. Bacteria can handle greater heat, greater cold, more acidity, more alkalinity, and more pressure, than any other known living thing (Sagan 105). Most bacteria have a high rate of reproduction and mutations, thus enabling them to quickly adapt in changing environments (Gamlin 36). They are also capable of living inside rocks, between sand grains in a desert, in scalding springs, in the stratosphere, in plants, in animals, and at the bottom of dark oceans. Bacteria can affect the environment by being neutral, negative as in causing diseases or illnesses, or positive helping the continuation of the biosphere, at any point during their lifetime (Sagan 105). Bacteria is also very useful in genetic research, physiology, cytology, and biochemistry, because they are able to live short lives, have large amounts of offspring, only need minimal laboratory space, grow fast, and are quite easy to control, but some preparation must be done, such as: sterilizing tools, glassware, and the culture before and after use because the culture or outside environment may be contaminated (Hauser 3).
Nitrogen fixers are capable of taking inert nitrogen from the air and making it accessible to all living organisms, therefore making it one of the most important life forms on Earth. These types of bacteria are found all over the Earth, in both soil and water, but mostly in garden soils on leaves or roots, turning them into fertilizer. The most common nitrogen fixing bacteria are known as the Azotobacters, which are aerobic, cyst-forming, rapidly growing, and oval-shaped cells that exude profuse amounts of slime. They also produce tiny black pigments which are insoluble in water. These types of nitrogen bacteria are easily found, by digging up a leguminous plant (like a radish or carrot), cleaning the soil off the roots gently with water and observe the pink root nodules on the roots (Sagan 120). For example, soil scientists at Ohio State University have discovered a pollution-eating bacteria, which eats quinoline, a very toxic poison given off by factories and industries. This type of bacteria could help clean up industrial wastes that might seep into the underground water supply. This bacteria is being investigated if it could be used in future oil spills, since quinoline is found in crude oil. The researchers at Ohio State University still do not know why this bacteria consumes quinoline or what by product it makes from consuming the quinoline. The researchers have many theories why, but the most logical theory is that enzymes are involved in degrading the quinoline, but the problem is finding which enzyme. These scientists believe that future geneticists will be able to make new types of bacteria using this bacteria to biodegrade some of the toxic substance produced by factories (USA Today 3).
In conclusion, future scientists and geneticists will eventually have the power to create all new species of bacteria to biodegrade any substance that they believe to be harmful to the environment.
- Eating "Bug" to the Rescue, USA Today, Vol.118, June, 1990, p. 3.
- Gamlin, Linda, The Evolution of Life, New York, USA, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 33-35.
- Hall, Stephen S., Invisible Frontiers, USA, Morgan Entreships, 1987.
- Hauser, Juliana T., Techniques for Studying Bacteria and Fungi, USA, Carolina Biological Supply Company., 1986, pp. 3-27.
- Sagan, Dorion, Garden of Microbial Delights, USA, Harrcourt Brace Jovenovich, Inc., 1988, pp.3-5, pp. 105-120.
by Phil for Humanity