Biodegradable matter is generally organic materials such as plant and animal matter and other substances originating from living organisms, or artificial materials that are similar enough to plant and animal matter to be put to use by microorganisms. Some microorganisms have a naturally occurring, microbial catabolic diversity to degrade, transform or accumulate a huge range of compounds including hydrocarbons (e.g. oil), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pharmaceutical substances, radionuclides and metals. Major methodological breakthroughs in microbial biodegradation have enabled detailed genomic, metagenomic, proteomic, bio-informatic and other high-throughput analyses of environmentally relevant microorganisms providing unprecedented insights into key biodegradative pathways and the ability of microorganisms to adapt to changing environmental conditions.
Products that contain biodegradable matter and non-biodegradable matter are often marketed as biodegradable. Research efforts in this field are two-fold: to identify and/or develop transgenic biological agents that digest specific existing compounds in polluted soils and water, and to develop new biodegradable compounds to replace hazardous chemicals in industrial activity. Research is, therefore, aimed at bioremediation, which could identify biological agents that rapidly degrade existing pollutants in the environment, such as heavy metals and toxic chemicals in soil and water, explosive residues, or spilled petroleum. Crude oil however, is naturally biodegradable, and species of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria are responsible for an important reduction of petroleum levels in reservoirs, especially at temperatures below 176° F (80° C). The selection, culture, and even genetic manipulation of some of these species may lead to a bioremediation technology that could rapidly degrade oil accidentally spilled in water. Another field for... [continues]
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