5 Uses of Biotechnology in Environmental Protection

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Applications of Biotechnology in environmental protection can play a big role in adopting a sustainable development pathway. Biotechnology can immediately help by modifying the solid, liquid and gaseous waste either by recycling or making new products so that end product is less harmful to the environment. Replacing chemicals with biological materials using biotechnology is another way to reduce the our harmful impact on the environment.

It goes without saying that the Environment is essential for every aspect of  the life because all the living beings are dependent on it for their survival and needs. The man-made disruption to the environment is causing extinction and pollution, which is dangerous for both biodiversity and specifically us humans as well. I share in this article, five of the many ways in which Biotechnology can help play a role in environmental protection.

1. Bioremediation

Bio means living, remediation means process of removing or correcting. Nature is full of microbes and microorganism which are both harmful and beneficial to us and exhibit symbiotic relationships to maintain the balance in our environment.

Bioremediation has been used since many years to remove or detoxify pollutants, usually as contaminants of soils, water or sediments by using microorganisms. An excellent examples of this is the use of bacteria for removing oil spill in the ocean. Oil spills have considerable negative impact on marine life, mainly sea birds and filter feeders.

Microorganisms can be used to remove organics material or toxic chemical from domestic waste and industrial effluents such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), petroleum hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls and even metals. A number of strategies already exist for treating toxic materials in this manner, some of which reduce the pollutant (biological transformation) to less toxic products.

2. Biosensors

Biosensors are devices that are used to detect the presence or concentration of a biological analyte such as a biomolecule, a biological structure or a microorganism. It consists of an analytical device consisting of a biocatalyst (enzyme, cell or tissue) and a transducer that converts biological or biochemical signal into a quantifiable electrical signals. Now a days, the transducer are made using nanofabrication technologies which are much faster and relatively cheaper. Biosensors and immunoassays are therefore now available even in the market.

Contamination of metals or pollutants in the environment can be detected using microbes based biosensors. Biosensors can also be designed to be very selective, or sensitive to a broad range of  the compounds. For example, a wide range of the  herbicides can be detected in river water using algal-based biosensors; the stresses are inflicted on the organisms being measured as changes in the optical properties of the plant’s chlorophyll.

Biosensors are of different types, such as calorimetric biosensors, immunosensors, optical biosensors, BOD biosensors, gas biosensors, depending on the need of the end user. Biosensors are also said to hold the key for mass Coronavirus testing. The global Biosensor market is estimated to reach $38.60 Billion by 2026. The spread of Coronavirus pandemic will only boost this market further. This is sure to bring down costs thereby highlighting the need to use Biosensors for environmental monitoring and assessment.

3. Biofuels

Depleting fossil fuels reserves continue to renew interest in the conversion of biomass to biofuel production. Biofuels are derived from renewable feed stocks that are environmentally friendly fuels with the potential to meet more than a quarter of world’s demand for transportation fuels by 2050. Biofuels are made from the living things or from the waste that they produce, including agricultural waste.

One of the most common biofuel is ethanol, which is produced from plants, food crops, biomass and generally from the seed or the fruit part of the plant. Biofuels can also be prepared from lignocellulosic materials through biochemical and thermochemical conversion processes. Scientists are currently investigating the use of cellulose (the fibours in stem and other plant parts of most plants) to produce ethanol. This will mean that any plant can be used to make biofuel.

According to one study, Sulfolobus solfataricus microorganism lives in volcanic pools can be genetically modified to help in the more efficient conversion of cellulose into biofuel. It is projected that in the future, S. solfataricus may be used to produce biofuel and make the environment free from pollution and global warming impacts. This microbe can thus well be the key to powering cars in an environmental friendly way and in the not too distant future, we could all be filling up our cars with microbial-based fuel.

4. Biopesticides

Biopesticides can be described as the beneficial use of one living organisms to directly or indirectly suppress, inhibit, damage or kill a pest or pest population. Biocontrol agents include the products obtained from fungi, bacteria, viruses and other organisms.

The population of the world is increasing day by day which simultaneously leads to increase in global food demand. This passes on as a great challenge to traditional agricultural systems. Through biotechnology, we can use biological tools for the benefits of humanity. Biotechnology is thus a rapidly growing segment in biological sciences that has diversified applications in sustainable agriculture, beginning with developing chemical-free biopesticides.

Biotechnology uses many things such as plants, animals and microbes. Early man is known to decompose agricultural and kitchen waste by burying it in the soil for many months, that we today call composting. Biotechnology can offer similar eco-friendly alternative that rely on natural mechanisms to fight pathogens.

5. Bioenzymes

Enzymes are proteinaceous substances produced by living organisms and have several beneficial characteristics. They are the main pre-cursors of all the transformations occurring in the environment. They are catalysts with either narrow (chemo-, region- and stereo-selectivity) or broad specificity, therefore, they can be applied to almost any environmental activity or process.

Bioenzymes can carry out total transformations of the toxicological structure of a contaminant, or cause complete conversion of a substance into innocuous inorganic end product. And they can do this in a much faster way than any other non-biological method. Bioenzymes can perform conversions for which no efficient chemical transformations have been devised.

Bioenzymes are a powerful tool that helping maintain a clean environment in several ways. Some of these are utilized by a number of industries such as those of agro-food, oil, animal feed, detergent, pulp and paper, textile, leather, petroleum and various chemical and biochemical industry. Enzymes also play an important role in maintaining pollution free environment and are deployed in waste management using Recombinant DNA technology, protein engineering, etc.

Swati Singh

Swati Singh

Swati Singh is pursuing a Master's degree in Biotechnology and is always trying to learn something new in her own field. She is currently associated with Delhi Greens as an academic intern.

One thought on “5 Uses of Biotechnology in Environmental Protection

  1. Swati Singh , more power to you. Keep up the good research. Keep it towards Sustainable Sciences. Sustainable living.

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