"Environment" research area

MnDRIVE Environment 2017 Seed Grants Announced

 MnDRIVE, Advancing Industry, Conserving Our Environment, awarded 5 Post Doctoral Seed Grants to selected researchers for the 2017-2018 year. 

Uncovering principals of genetic deregulation to overcome aerobic repression

Jeffrey Gralnick

A major challenge of bioremediation is to optimize microbial metabolic processes for the breakdown of pollutants in the environment. Evolution has placed different selection pressures on bacteria that do not always correlate well with human endeavors to provide solutions to pollution. Denitrification is a useful process that can clean up nitrates and nitrites in the environment by dissimilating them into gases such as nitric oxide, nitrous oxide and inert nitrogen gas. However, this process is highly regulated in bacteria, because they preferentially respire oxygen as it generates more energy than nitrate. Deregulation of anaerobic processes could significantly advance bioremediation but is difficult to implement, requiring proof of concept in E. coli. We hypothesize that 2D-TnSeq will provide a high-throughput approach to guide deregulation of anaerobic biological processes such as nitrate respiration. 

Plant-Microbe Interactions to Phytoremediate Arsenic Contaminated Soils

Michael Sadowsky and Cara Santelli

Contamination of the biosphere by toxic metals has accelerated dramatically since the beginning of the industrial revolution, posing worldwide environmental and human health problems. The World Health Organization has listed arsenic (As) as one of the 10 major chemicals of concern worldwide. Arsenic is a known carcinogen, and in the environment As occurs as both inorganic and organic forms. Some plants can remove As from soils containing multiple As compounds. Plants do not do this alone, and rhizobacteria and the microbial community have been shown to have a significant effect on As uptake by these plants. One challenge facing the efficacy of phytoremediation is that metal contaminants are typically bound to organic and inorganic soil constituents, making them unavailable for root uptake by plants. The presence of rhizosphere and endophytic bacteria may increase the concentrations of As uptake by plants. The main objective of this proposal is to investigate the use of Pteris vittata and Agrostis delicatula and their attendant and supplemented rhizosphere bacteria to phytoremediate As-contaminated MN soils. We will specifically target soils from two Minnesota superfund sites.

 Advanced biocomposite materials for bioremediation

Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, Alptekin Aksan, Maureen B Quin

We propose to develop an advanced biocomposite material for the rapid, on-site sequestration and detoxification of heavy metals and organic pollutants via a sustainable bioremediation approach. This material will be adaptable to a range of remediation sites, including heavy metal (e.g. arsenic, cadmium, mercury) contaminated mine drainage streams typical in northern Minnesota, and agricultural soil treated with pesticides and fertilizers. Our material will be built from robust detoxifying “Biohubs” that will be encased in silica to create a stable, portable and reusable material for field-deployment in a range of mitigation systems (e.g. flow-through packed bed reactors, membrane reactors, stirred tank leach reactors).

Microbial Mediated Nutrient Capture and Recycling from Urban and Agricultural Runoff

Robert Gardner

Eutrophication is primarily driven by excessive nutrients [i.e., carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)] and the impacts include increased production of algae and macrophytes, shifts in habitat characteristics, production of toxins, and deoxygenation of water, amongst others. Fortunately, advancement in renewable energy systems and agricultural practices can contribute to offsetting some of these deleterious environmental consequences through strategic nutrient capture, conversion, and recycling it back through soil, ultimately improving soil resources and sustainability. Here we propose the development of an integrated project focused on efficient and strategic microbial capture, conversion, and recycling of anthropogenic CO2, N and P from urban and agricultural runoff that has the potential to be translational across multiple scales and territories.


Bioremediation For Turning Waste Into Money

Lawrence Wackett

This proposal describes a collaboration with a Minnesota company to develop methods for bioremediating waste grease in a manner that transforms the carbon into high-value products. This research will promote a circular economy whereby industry is incentivized to recycle waste because it enhances, rather than drains, company profits. It is a corollary of this proposal that biological waste-to-profits conversion will help usher in a larger role for bioremediation in society.