Using Microbes to Clean up Pollution
Anaerobic environments are places that lack oxygen, like hot springs, swamps, some soils and the guts of most organisms. We also create anaerobic environments when we ferment foods or make alcohol. These anaerobic environments are full of millions of microbes—microscopic organisms that live in complex communities—that can also be used to clean up contaminants.
Dr. Elizabeth Edwards, Canada Research Chair in Anaerobic Biotechnology, has made it her mission to understand the physiology, biochemistry, genetics and intricate interactions of these organisms in the hopes of harnessing their pollution-fighting abilities.
As an international pioneer in bioremediation of pollutants and environmental biotechnology, Edwards has spent more than 20 years developing ways to use bacteria to clean up groundwater contamination, some of which are now used commercially. She explores ways to use and improve the innate ability of microbes to transform common pollutants or to convert waste into more valuable products.
Edwards and her research team are studying complex microbial ecosystems to understand how the community as a whole enables much greater activity than the sum of its individual parts. Edwards believes that greater understanding of how microbes interact in anaerobic environments could lead to more sustainable industrial processes and new ways to reduce energy consumption.