Demonstrating benzene degradation with DNA techniques

We know more and more about microbiology. DNA detection equipment is becoming cheaper, as a result of which more and more new bacterial species and their degradation processes are discovered.

The size of biodiversity in the world is displayed in a article in nature : the Tree of Life. It shows that the world we see with our eyes, the Eukaryotes (the plants, the animals, ourselves) are only a small fraction of everything that lives. The vast majority of living organisms are bacteria. An unprecedented potential that still has a lot to explore. And what is always easier and better by new DNA detection technology.

For example, Dutch scientists recently discovered a gene that specifically breaks down benzene under anoxic conditions. For a long time it was doubted whether benzene degradation without oxygen, so this deep in the soil, is possible at all. Over the past six months, we have worked hard at Orvion to demonstrate the presence of these benzene degradation genes using DNA techniques. We can now measure 5 genes that can be used to detect natural anaerobic degradation of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and intermediates. Meanwhile, we have been able to demonstrate with DNA techniques the anaerobic degradation of benzene on two gas factory sites and an old asphalt plant in the Netherlands.

The more we know about natural degradation processes, the more effective we can make soil remediation. With microbiological information (DNA or RNA from groundwater) it can be substantiated for large sites which source zones need to be cleaned up quickly and thoroughly and which are not. After all, if the good genes are present and active, then nature does its work and we do not have to intervene with expensive measures that can also be detrimental to the environment and where substances such as benzene can be released.

The greatest risk for soil remediation is that too large or premature conclusions are drawn on the basis of too little data. So: measure = know = save on remediation .

Marc van Bemmel is an Environmental Technologist. He established Orvion in order to develop and apply sustainable biological techniques. He has a great fascination with nature and likes to demonstrate how powerful it can be, how we can learn from it and how we can use natural processes in a meaningful and harmonious way.

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