Bioremediation researchers continue to tackle the soil and water pollution caused by industrial runoff, nuclear power plant accidents, and aquaculture. Living organisms form the foundation of bioremediation methods by collecting or breaking down toxic contaminants. Experiments with bioremediation have shown high potential to strip legacy toxins from the environment or enable cleaner production operations.

Microbial Stimulation

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The National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences has granted nearly $1.5 million to scientists at the University of Iowa and Villanova University to develop synthetic polymers for cleaning contaminated soil and water. The money will support laboratory experiments with polymers that act like carbon and encourage certain bacteria to break down contaminants.

Bacteria that respirate organohalide exist naturally in groundwater. The researchers hope to refine synthetic pyrogenic carbonaceous matter to find the most effective means of neutralizing contaminants.

Trout Fish Farm in Turkey

Sea Cucumber Collaboration

Bioremediation can involve higher level organisms. In Scotland, researchers have discovered that sea cucumbers’ appetite for fish feces could solve the persistent problem of sea floor contamination at salmon farming sites. Laboratory experiments currently measure the waste-recycling capacity of sea cucumbers and their ability to withstand sea lice treatments necessary for fish farming. The potential of this process could expand aquaculture by more than 20 percent globally while halting pollution of sea ecosystems. Cleaner aquaculture could stimulate new economic opportunities for coastal communities and increase food supplies.

Border Field State Park / Imperial Beach, San Diego, California. Credit: Hiku2

Collecting Radioactive Cesium At Fukushima

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan spread radioactive cesium throughout the surrounding environment. With a half life of roughly 30 years, cesium presents a significant threat to the health and productivity of the region. Japanese researchers have looked to genetically modified plants to absorb cesium from soil in a bioremediation process called phytoremediation. Their recently published findings highlighted plant biology discoveries that allowed plants to absorb cesium from a soil sample without interfering with potassium absorption necessary for growth.

As scientists have shown, the natural world can provide answers to persistent pollution problems. What role do you think bioremediation will play in promoting cleaner industries and healthier environments?


The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is expanding and accelerating its contributions to scientific knowledge of human health and the environment, and to the health and well-being of people everywhere.  The boards and councils that advise NIEHS are comprised of both the scientific community and the public.  With our increased understanding, we now know how environmental health and human health is interconnected.  As a federal agency, NIEHS provides Congress with ongoing updates on research and funding provided by NIEHS.  On November 1, 2016 NIEHS celebrated 50 years of environmental research.

ABOUT The Fukushim Daiichi Nuclear Plant

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (福島第一原子力発電所事故, Fukushima Dai-ichi genshiryoku hatsudensho jiko) was a 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. The event was caused by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. It was the most severe nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. It was classified as Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, after initially being classified as Level 5,joining Chernobyl as the only other accident to receive a such classification. While the explosion at the Mayak facility was the second worst incident by radioactivity released, the INES ranks by impact on population, so Chernobyl (335,000 people evacuated) and Fukushima (154,000 evacuated) rank higher than the 10,000 evacuated from the classified restricted Mayak site in rural Siberia. Wikipedia

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