Environmental factor – May 2022: Materials science and bacteria are key to remediation, experts say – Advice Eating

During two recent webinars on advances in NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) research (see sidebar), grantees discussed innovative strategies for bioremediation—the process of using bacteria, fungi, and plants to break down pollutants.

“The purpose of these webinars is to facilitate a dialogue between scientists, practitioners and stakeholders early in the research process to ensure new projects are on the path to successful technology transfer and application by end users,” said Henry. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

“One of SRP’s goals is to encourage multidisciplinary approaches to create sustainable solutions to reduce exposure to hazardous substances in the environment,” said SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., during the opening address. “By combining expertise in bioremediation and materials science, these grantees are developing novel remediation strategies that can protect health in the long term.”

More than 400 participants from academia, industry, government, environmental technology and community groups attended each of the first two sessions of the series.

Degradation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances

The first session focused on the purification of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Although a common theme has been that PFAS are difficult to degrade, technologies combining novel materials and bacteria can aid the process.

“PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that are of increasing concern,” said Yujie Men, Ph.D., of the University of California, Riverside. “We encounter them in things we use every day, such as B. non-stick pans, water-repellent materials and some cosmetics.”

Shun Che (front) and Huaqing Liu, Ph.D. Men and team, including trainees Shun Che, in front, and Huaqing Liu, Ph.D., in back, improve their system to break down PFAS in groundwater faster than current technologies. (Photo courtesy of Yujie Men)

For example, Men discussed their team’s work to use Nanomaterials powered by solar power(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R01ES032668) to create conditions that allow bacteria to break the strong carbon-fluorine bonds that hold PFAS molecules together.

Similarly, Princeton University’s Peter Jaffé, Ph.D., presented his team’s work to be developed Nanoparticles from the mineral ferrihydrite(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R01ES032694) and coated with polyacrylic acids, which are biodegradable materials used in food packaging and diapers to retain water.

“In laboratory studies, we have seen that polyacrylic acids accelerate the movement of our nanoparticles, allowing them to reach bacteria and creating conditions that favor the breakdown of PFAS molecules,” said Jaffé. “In the future, we hope to investigate how this can be implemented in practice.”

Diana Aga, Ph.D., from the State University of New York at Buffalo, spoke about her team’s two-step approach(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R01ES032717) Using graphene-metal nanoparticles to boost PFAS degradation and bacteria to finish the job.

Diana Aga, Ph.D., and Yujie Men, Ph.D Aga, left, and his team, including intern Utsav Thapa, Ph.D., right, analyze every step of their work to ensure there are no toxic by-products. (Photo courtesy of Douglas Levere / State University of New York at Buffalo)

Use of sorbents to remove contaminants

Another group of SRP grantees discussed their research into developing sorbents — which bind and retain hazardous contaminants — that can be combined with bacteria to capture and break down hazardous substances more efficiently.

“We are excited to be part of this team that NIEHS has assembled to transform university research into novel field technologies,” said Upal Ghosh, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Ghosh evolves carbon-based sorption materials(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R01ES032719) which can bind to chlorinated compounds and improve bacteria’s ability to break them down.

“Using bacteria and other microorganisms to clean up contaminants in the field is challenging,” said Tim Mattes, Ph.D., of the University of Iowa. “Our team is Adjust activated charcoal(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R01ES032671) to enhance the ability of bacteria to break down pollutants and improve the performance of these remediation strategies.”

Youneng Tang, Ph.D., from Florida State University, and Yuexiao Shen, Ph.D., from Texas Tech University, presented their development work Sorbents that stimulate the growth of bacterial clusters(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R01ES032692) on their surface to break down mixtures of groundwater pollutants.

Sun shining on a sprout in the dirt Don’t miss the third and final session of the webinar series on May 13th. At the event, researchers will study how plants and fungi can be used to remove hazardous substances from the soil. (Image courtesy of Nature_Design / Pixabay.com)

“We apply materials science develop a system(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R01ES032707) which can treat pollutants over a longer period of time,” said Lewis Semprini, Ph.D., of Oregon State University. “We use a slow-release compound in hydrogel beads that encourages bacterial growth to break down chemical mixtures.”

“The presentations demonstrated how materials science can improve the applicability of bioremediation by accelerating the speed of the process, preventing the formation of unintended by-products, or facilitating the ability to clean up co-contaminants at the same time,” said Henry.

(Mali Velasco is a research and communications specialist at MDB Inc., a contractor to the NIEHS Superfund Research Program.)

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