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Microorganisms in heavy metal bioremediation: strategies for applying microbial-community engineering to remediate soils

1 Department of Microbiology, La Trobe University, Melbourne Campus, Victoria, 3086, Australia
2 Key Laboratory of Soil Environment and Pollution Remediation, Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China
3 Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences, Center for AgriBiosciences, La Trobe University, Melbourne Campus, Victoria, 3086, Australia

Topical Section: Bioremediation of contaminated soil

The remediation of heavy-metal-contaminated soils is essential as heavy metals persist and do not degrade in the environment. Remediating heavy-metal-contaminated soils requires metals to be mobilized for extraction whilst, at the same time, employing strategies to avoid mobilized metals leaching into ground-water or aquatic systems. Phytoextraction is a bioremediation strategy that extracts heavy metals from soils by sequestration in plant tissues and is currently the predominant bioremediation strategy investigated for remediating heavy-metal-contaminated soils. Although the efficiency of phytoextraction remains a limiting feature of the technology, there are numerous reports that soil microorganisms can improve rates of heavy metal extraction.
This review highlights the unique challenges faced when remediating heavy-metal-contaminated soils as compared to static aquatic systems and suggests new strategies for using microorganisms to improve phytoextraction. We compare how microorganisms are used in soil bioremediation (i.e. phytoextraction) and water bioremediation processes, discussing how the engineering of microbial communities, used in water remediation, could be applied to phytoextraction. We briefly outline possible approaches for the engineering of soil communities to improve phytoextraction either by mobilizing metals in the rhizosphere of the plant or by promoting plant growth to increase the root-surface area available for uptake of heavy metals. We highlight the technological advances that make this research direction possible and how these technologies could be employed in future research.
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