May 18, 2009 Views: 502
Environmental microbiology is the study of the composition and physiology of microbial communities in the environment. The environment in this case means the soil, water, air and sediments covering the planet and can also include the animals and plants that inhabit these areas. Environmental microbiology also includes the study of microorganisms that exist in artificial environments such as bioreactors.
Molecular biology has revolutionized the study of microorganisms in the environment and improved our understanding of the composition, phylogeny, and physiology of microbial communities. The current molecular toolbox encompasses a range of DNA-based technologies and new methods for the study of RNA and proteins extracted from environmental samples. Currently there is a major emphasis on the application of "omics" approaches to determine the identities and functions of microbes inhabiting different environments.
See also: Environmental Molecular Microbiology
Microbial life is amazingly diverse and microorganisms literally cover the planet. It is estimated that we know fewer than 1% of the microbial species on Earth. Microorganisms can survive in some of the most extreme environments on the planet and some can survive high temperatures, often above 100°C, as found in geysers, black smokers, and oil wells. Some are found in very cold habitats and others in highly salt|saline, acidic, or alkaline water.
See also: Archaea: New Models for Prokaryotic Biology
An average gram of soil contains approximately one billion (1,000,000,000) microbes representing probably several thousand species. Microorganisms have special impact on the whole biosphere. They are the backbone of ecosystems of the zones where light cannot approach. In such zones, chemosynthetic bacteria are present which provide energy and carbon to the other organisms there. Some microbes are decomposers which have ability to recycle the nutrients. So, microbes have a special role in biogeochemical cycles. Microbes, especially bacteria, are of great importance in the sense that their symbiotic relationship (either positive or negative) have special effects on the ecosystem.
Microorganisms are cost effective agents for in-situ remediation of domestic, agricultural and industrial wastes and subsurface pollution in soils, sediments and marine environments. The ability of each microorganism to degrade toxic waste depends on the nature of each contaminant. Since most sites are typically comprised of multiple pollutant types, the most effective approach to microbial biodegradation is to use a mixture of bacterial species/strains, each specific to the degradation of one or more types of contaminants. It is vital to monitor the composition of the indigenous and added bacterial consortium in order to evaluate the activity level of the bacteria, and to permit modifications of the nutrients and other conditions for optimizing the bioremediation process.
See also: Microbial Biodegradation: Genomics and Molecular Biology