Thanks to the help of some hungry bacteria and plants, a 150-foot high garbage dump in Colombia is being transformed into a public park. The microbes and greens are neutralizing the contaminated soil, sucking up heavy metals and feasting on chemicals.
Wired’s Olivia Solon describes how the project got off the ground:
A team from the National University of Colombia in Medellin designed an experiment to see whether bioremediation, which uses biological agents such as bacteria or plants to remove or neutralise contaminants, could be used to clean the site. Gomez was tasked with finding out whether there were any microorganisms in the soil that could feed on the carbon in the most problematic contaminants. This was a major task as there are an estimated 10,000 species of bacteria and the same number of fungi living in a single gram of soil.
Gomez analyzed all the different bacteria and performed tests on how different contaminats degraded under the unseen organisms’ influence. Score—some of the species present were indeed capable of contamination cleanups, and had in fact been munching on chemicals all along. He described his discovery in the journal Soil Biology and Biochemistry.
The Colombian government loved it, and decided to launch a restoration project using the local microbial communities and some metal-absorbing plants. In order to speed up the process, the hard working microbes are being fed extra nutrients to supplement their diet of pure garbage. The community gets a park, and the microbes get lunch.