Environmental microbiology is the study of the composition and physiology of microbial communities in the environment. Microbiology is the learning of organisms too small to be clearly seen by the naked eye i.e., microorganisms and how they are living, working and surviving.
The environment refers to the planet’s soil, water, air, and sediments, as well as the creatures and plants that live there. Microorganisms that live in artificial habitats, such as bioreactors, are also studied in environmental microbiology. It is also known as Microbial Ecology. Ecology of micro-organisms, their interrelationship with one another and environment are studied in this branch of environmental science. It is mainly concerned with following micro-organism:
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Microbial Ecology is the study of microorganisms’ interactions with one another and with their surroundings. It includes viruses as well as the three major kingdoms of life: Eukaryote, Achaea, and Bacteria. Microorg anisms have an impact on the entire biosphere due to their omnipresence. They can be found in almost every ecosystem on our world, including some of the most severe, from acidic lakes to the deepest oceans, and from freezing conditions to hydrothermal vents.
The roots of environmental microbiology are most closely to microbial ecology, which comprises the study of the interaction of microorganisms within the environment (air, water or soil).
Role of Environmental Microbiologist
The mission of Environmental microbiologist is to pursue the goal of environmental sustainability, which defined as “the utilization of environmental resources for the benefit of human health and welfare without deterioration of the physical environment or the biological communities contained therein”. Critical components of these biological communities are the microbial communities housed within the environment. Environmental microbiologists face a difficult task in improving their understanding of these communities in order to attain environmental sustainability.
Role of Microorganism in Biosphere
Micro-organisms impact the entire biosphere and regulate biogeochemical cycles. Microbes by virtue of their biomass alone, constitute a significant carbon sink and also play roles in carbon fixation. Beside their small size, they are basically unicellular; their life does not depend on other cells. It means that one cell is a complete life, which distinguishes from other multicultural organisms. They are diverse in their living habits (adaptation, live almost everywhere where life is possible) and have high metabolic activities and fast reproduction. They are more numerous than any other kind of organisms (genetic diversity). Global ecosystem depends on their activities. These influence human society in many ways. Microorganisms are thought to have been living on the earth for 2.3-4.7 billion years.
Application Areas of Environmental Microbiology
Being an applied science, it deals with the following phenomenon:
- Biological treatment of wastes (liquid, solid, gaseous)
- Biogeochemical roles in element cycling
- Microbial transformation of toxic materials in environments
- Interactions between them/other organisms
- Microorganisms relevant to public health
- Tools and technologies to study/know them
Important Component: Symbiosis
Microbes engage in both positive and negative symbiotic relationships. These relationships affect eco-system, e.g., chloroplasts allow eukaryotes to conduct photosynthesis (thus chloroplasts are considered to be Endosymbiotic Cyanobacteria a group of bacteria that are thought to be the origins of aerobic photosynthesis).
Important Role of Microbes in Environment
The backbone of all ecosystems is microbes. Chemosynthetic microbes provide energy in zones where photosynthesis is unable to take place because of the absence of light. Other microbes are decomposers that have the ability to recycle nutrients. These are cost-effective agents of In-situ remediation of domestic, agricultural, and industrial wastes and subsurface pollution in soils, sediments, and marine environments.
Important Applications of Environmental Microbiology
Petroleum oil is toxic and a major ecological concern; however, oil spills can be eliminated by hydrocarbons degrading activities of microbial communities. Microbes such as HCB can help remediate the ecological damage caused by oil pollution.
It is the use of microorganisms to remove pollution. It is an environmentally friendly alternative to bio-treatment. It is cheaper and carried out by using natural organisms. It is helped by preventing limited nutrients.
It is impossible to generate or destroy matter. It is necessary to recycle a steady amount of matter in the environment. Microbes play an important role in converting nutrients into organic and useable forms. Microbes are required for the conversion of organic nutrients to inorganic forms.
Microbes convert inorganic forms of carbon into organic forms using external sources of energy.
Microbes decompose proteins from dead cells and release amino acids. Ammonia is liberated by microbial ammonification of amino acids. Nitrifying bacteria oxidize ammonia to create nitrates for energy. Nitrogen in nitrates is converted to molecular nitrogen by denitrifying bacteria. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert N2 into ammonia. Bacteria and plants both employ ammonium and nitrate to make amino acids.
Plants and certain microbes can use SO4-2– to make amino acids. H2S is oxidized to form SO4-2
Inorganic phosphorus is solubilized by microbial acids which are made available to plants and other microbes. It is soluble in water and combines with calcium in calcium phosphate deposits of ancient seas.
Testing and Waste Treatment:
Microbes are used for various testing and treatment options including:
- Molecular Methods for Detection of Waterborne Pathogens
- Bioremediation of Hazardous Organics
- Anaerobic Biodegradation of Solid Waste
- Activated Sludge Method
- Low-Energy Wastewater Treatment
- Sewage Treatment
- Water quality tests
- Bio-remediated geo-mechanical process