"Environment" research area

Using Bacteria to Recycle Wasted Phosphorus

Primary Investigator - Mikael EliasPrimary InvestigatorMikael Elias
Co-Investigators: 
Bo Hu (Co-PI)
Industry PartnersMN Department of Agriculture and Metropolitan Council Environmental Services
Award Type: Seed Grant - Postdoctoral Research Scholar

Problem: Phosphorus (P) fertilizer is essential for large-scale agriculture. The element will reach peak production by 2040 and soon after will begin to decline, negatively impacting global food production. Meanwhile, agricultural runoff of P fertilizer in the Midwest is a major polluter of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. Excess P in freshwater creates an overproduction of algae that reduces biodiversity and can be toxic to water ecosystems. 

Solution: The Elias Lab is engineering a bacterial-based bioscavenger that will remove P from agricultural waste materials and recycle it as a fertilizer. The Lab’s novel approach uses laboratory molecular engineering to increase the phosphate uptake system in bacteria. The project will result in an efficient “phosphate-scavenging bug” to be applied in a biofilter system for agricultural sources.

Impact: A phosphorus recycling system could both reduce water pollution and relieve P shortages. The solution will be of high interest to environmental protection agencies, P-producing industries (livestock, chemical producers), and companies invested in sustainable food production. The system will address Minnesota’s phosphorus runoff concerns and a global challenge in food production.