Bioremediation – Helping Nature Do It’s Thing JP-033

The beginning of a series on Bioremediation. We give a short overview of how we can use life to clean life. We end with a story of a graduate thesis I abandoned because it wasn’t going to get me a doctorate.

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edase Paa   ߡߍߘߊߛߋ ߔߊ
Modupe O
ߡߏߘߎߔߋ ߏ

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Transcript (automated)


I am Mason Olonade and this is Jìgìjìgì: Africulture Podcast. Here we believe building a healthy soil builds a healthy soul, so we share strategies for how to do both. To do both we ask two questions: How do you grow while you grow Kale, Collards, Tomatoes, and Melons. And why, do you think, the healthiest soils are Black?

Bioremediation: Helping Nature Do It’s Thing

I’ve been planning this Bioremediation series for some time, as one episode will not do this topic justice.

In short, bioremediation is the use of plants, bacteria, fungi, the sum of all known as biology, life, to clean up the environment. Some short examples are using Sunflowers to take up uranium from the groundwater, various fungi to breakdown petrochemicals into the most elementary fatty acids, or mining nickel from the incinerated harvests of Sunflower, Indian Mustard, and the Copper Plant. The Copper Plant, in South Africa is so tolerant of high copper soils that some geologists use it as an indicator of what’s in the soil.

Usually these plants are called hype accumulators because of their ability to accumulate large amounts of heavy metals, radionuclides, organic solvents, hydrocarbons and other environmental toxins.

All of these plants have a variety of strategies they employ to reverse the effects that we have caused. All that is left for us to do is to figure out how to recover the toxins once they are stored within the plant. I’ll list the most common strategies followed by a short definition. It won’t be that scientifically tough, I promise!

Phytoextraction or Phytoaccumulation
Absorbing the contaminant within the root structure and transferring them into the aboveground or aerial parts of the plant.

Stabilizing the contaminant through chemical action by the plant, in the soil. “Locking the contaminants in the soil.”

removing contaminants in the soil and absorbing them into the fibrous root zone of the plant.

Where fungi, yeasts, and bacteria can degrade organic contaminants, like hydrocarbons, or synthetic hormones

Removal of excessive salts in the soil.

Absorbing the contaminant in the roots and releasing it into the atmosphere

Future episodes will go into each of these topics by centering the topic around some plants you may recognize, and maybe even know how to grow!

I’ll leave you with a story, one about my proposed graduate thesis.

A friend of mine was studying the Fathead Minnow, a freshwater fish endemic to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Fathead Minnows display an impressive sexual dimorphism. That is to say, male and female fish look and behave very differently. As my friends lab studies endocrinology, he looked at the growth effects that other hormones might have on the Fathead Minnow. In particular a hormone that he studied are metabolites of the birth control drug levonorgestrel. What he found, what I saw was quite amazing.

Repeat after repeat showed that exposure to the birth control compounds that we release into the environment through our excretions not only reverse the appearance of the sexual dimorphism, but also the courting behaviors of the fish as well. It is very bizarre to see at week 1, for example, normal fish in the experimental tank ,then at week 4 to see the same fish, but their manifestations of their original sex have changed, the appearance and behaviors are remarkably different. Role reversal.

After seeing this, and going through the implications that this may have on us, I thought about whether or not there was a way to remove levonorgestrel and other synthetic estrogens from the water. I found a paper that I was willing to stake my entire future on.

Phytoremediation of Levonorgestrel in aquatic environment by hydrophytes.

Yes! This was exactly what I needed. I already had the main hydrophyte, Umbrella Papyrus, growing in my bedroom! I immediately had the rest of my life planned out starting from this experiment.

Two sets of three tanks. Tank1 is the upstream tank, where you add the contaminants. Tank2 is the tank for the plants, where my papyrus would go and grow. Tank 3 is the fish tank. Tanks 4-6 are the control versions of tanks 1-3.

The first aim of the experiment would be to re-prove what my homie already did in a different apparatus, and measure the concentrations of the contaminant and see they are consistent throughout the system. The second aim would prove that these plants can remove the levonorgestrel out of the water, by measuring the concentrations of the drug in tank 3, which doesn’t yet have any fish. The third aim would result in seeing that the fish retained their sexual dimorphism after living downstream of the papyrus despite the addition of the drug in tank 1. Of course there would be further contamination of the water, but then perhaps in aim three more plant tanks could be added to bring the concentration down even lower before tank 3.
This was brilliant! Fool-proof! I brought this idea up to several friends, including Silver Sprung, He asked me “what about the plant residues?” I thought about this for a while until, aha! Rhizodegradation! Then, after graduating with my phD in environmental sciences I would start a freshwater consulting firm and sell phyto/rhizoremediation arrays to be installed in small streams as an environmental statement standpoint to local governments. I’d be set and the environment would be set to move into the right direction!

I mustered up the courage to speak to the environmental studies professor whose office shared a wall with mine and he said “yeah, that’s a good master’s degree.” All hope, my future, all of this imagination, abandoned with disappointment. I hadn’t really thought about this much at all since then, until now where it is most beneficial to share it with you.

Share Jìgìjìgì with your friends family and closely related siblings of the soil. Leave us a a 5* review and wherever you listen to and we will say then as we say now, Asante Sana, Medase Pa, Modupe O. Thank you for listening to Jìgìjìgì. Peace