The Bioremediation Research Team of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology based in UP Los Baños is currently conducting studies to rehabilitate several contaminated sites in the country. These include an abandoned mining site at Mogpog, Marinduque, and bodies of water in Bulacan.
In Mogpog, Marinduque, a team of experts from UPLB headed by College of Arts and Sciences Dean and micro-biologist Dr. Asuncion K. Raymundo has been examining both the soil and bodies of water in the vicinity of an abandoned mining site and has found them heavily contaminated. Funded by Philippine Council for Agriculture and Forestry Research and Development (PCARRD) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the team was able to plant narra, banaba, and alibangbang in the wasteland with some intervention such as the use of compost, lime, and fungi (Mykovam) despite the presence of heavy metal contamination.
Raymundo said that the possible absorption of copper and the other metal deposits by smaller and easily-grown plants will make it possible for these metals to be recovered and recycled into useful materials.
In the meantime, Drs. Nelson Pampolina, Nelly Aganggan, and Jocelyn Zarate are studying the growth of jatropha, also in the Mogpog site, as a means to rehabilitate the soil. Another Dr. Nina Cadiz is studying the possible effects of the absorption of copper, lead, cadmium, and the other metal contaminants both on the plants and on the fruits and seeds that they will bear.
Raymundo and her student, Arlene Llamado, are also looking into the growth of bacteria in the roots of the plants in the Mogpog site and have correlated the growth of the bacteria population with the growth of the plants used for remediation. A thriving population would mean that the bacteria are capable of consuming the metals found in the soil where the plant is situated. The bacteria can then be isolated and used for future microbial remediation in other mining wastes or polluted environments.
Bioremediation is the process of facilitating the detoxification or removal of contaminants, pollutants or waste from an environment through the use of micro-organisms (microbial remediation) and plants (phytoremediation). Bioremediation is important in the restoration of fertility of soils, and the rehabilitation of rivers and other bodies of water contaminated by pollutants.
Aside from its use in mining sites, bioremediation is also being considered to rehabilitate areas contaminated by gold smelters and tanneries, such as those located in Marilao, Meycauayan, and the Obando river systems in Bulacan. Prof. Marlo Mendoza, Dr. Lorele Trinidad, Dr. Veronica Migo, and Dr. Catalino Alfafara, in cooperation with CHeLSi Tannery of Bulacan, are looking at microbial remediation to reduce the concentration of toxic heavy metals in the industry’s wastewater. Chemical run-offs from tanneries and gold smelters along the rivers have been found to pose a serious threat to the health of communities living along these bodies of water and to those who consume the aquatic resources from these rivers, prompting the team to initiate research on microbial remediation in the tannery and gold smelter industries. Any significant result of the research can be implemented by the industries in the area.
Bioremediation is considered safer than other environmental remediation methods which make use of chemical agents. Unlike the latter, it does necessitate the transfer of local populations or organisms and, at times, let alone restructuring of a community or environment. It uses naturally-occurring biological organisms or agents which pose no danger to the existing population and eco-systems.
The UPLB studies and experiments on bioremediation have been conducted with the cooperation of experts from other academic institutions and agencies also conducting similar research. Among these institutions are the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology; the Ateneo de Manila University; and UP Diliman. These universities share their expertise and findings with each other in the hope of finding solutions to various situations where bioremediation can be applied.
Dr. Raymundo has been named Academician by the National Academy of Science and Technology since 2002. A proposal which would enable the researchers to conduct more studies in the area at the cost of P20 million has also been submitted by the team to the DOST. (Khalil Ismael Michael Quilinguing)