Einvironmental Biotechnology. Graphic: UFZ
Source: Cast GmbH & Co. KG on behalf of UFZ

Department of Environmental Biotechnology

How can environmentally hazardous substances be removed from natural ecosystems or contamination be reduced by waste water treatment? How are chemicals, for example pesticides, transformed in soils? Are they completely mineralized or do residues remain in the soil matrix? Can the biodegradation of organic pollutants in soil and water be enhanced by microorganisms and plants? Are constructed wetlands suitable as a low cost alternative for the removal of micropollutants from wastewater streams? Can riparian zones be developed as bioremediation areas?

The increasing contamination and high persistence of many hazardous and xenobiotic substances is a major challenge for modern environmental biotechnology research. Although the potential for microbial degradation is ubiquitous, many organic contaminants are not or often only poorly transformed in natural environmental conditions. Therefore, the enhancement of natural microbiological degradative activities at contaminated sites is the central challenge of the Department (UBT).

The control of biotic transformation processes requires knowledge of the microbes’ abilities and of the conditions prevailing in the ecosystems in question Their interactions, metabolic networks and cellular adaptation mechanisms are of critical importance. In order to adjust and enhance biological compound turnover for the purpose of cleaning polluted sites efficiently, knowledge of metabolic mechanisms as well as the distribution and transport of chemicals in the rhizosphere and in soils in general is required. A central focus here is on microbe-plant interactions and on the establishment of constructed wetlands as a low-cost alternative cleaning stage in the effective removal of organic micropollutants such as pharmaceuticals, and microorganisms from domestic wastewater. Microorganisms can have many roles in this process: they are the main sink for pollutants and transport vehicles for many chemicals as well as carriers of antibiotic resistance genes. The Department of Environmental Biotechnology has a wide range of biogeochemical, microbiological and molecular biological expertise as well as appropriate analytical and technical infrastructure.

The aim of our work is the application and establishment of effective pollution control via microbial degradation processes in natural and engineered ecosystems. This may be obtained either in biotechnological settings such as constructed wetlands or in boosting the efficiency of agricultural land or riparian strips in river basins. We also provide our expertise in the assessment of degradation and elimination processes, for example of pesticide residues or antibiotic resistance, and offer recommendations on the management of chemicals.