By Fitzgerald L. Fabelico, PhD

On February 16, 2011, the faculty and the students of the Institute of Natural Sciences (INS) attended the International Symposium and Regional Research Exposition on Biotechnology and Bioremediation at the CAS Little Theater of Central Luzon State University (CLSU), Muñoz, Nueva Ecija. There were 37 delegates from INS who attended this symposium which consisted of the following: Dr. Fitzgerald L. Fabelico, the INS Director; INS faculty members – Mr. Robert Aceret, Mr. Cesar Antonio, Ms. Rosita Cailin, Ms. Jennylin Carreon, Mrs. Gliceria Marzan, Mr. Daniel Marvin Ramel; and 30 BS Biology students from all year level.

The theme of the said symposium was “Biotechnology as a Tool in Bioremediation.” With this, the symposium was intended to acquaint researchers, scientists, students and teachers on current advances on bioremediation of non-biodegradable pollutants through biotechnology. The international speakers for the said symposium were Dr. Geoffrey Michael Gadd of the University of Dundee, Scotland; and Dr. Geoff D. Robson of the University of Machester, United Kingdom. Dr. Gadd gave a lecture on “Geomycology: Transformations of Metals and Minerals by Fungi” while Dr. Robson talked on the “Fungal Deterioration of Plastics.”

Dr. Gadd underscored that “geomycology” can be considered as a subset of “geomicrobiology” and simply defined as the impact of fungi on geological processes, including the alteration and weathering of rocks and minerals, the accumulation of metals, and their roles in element and nutrient cycling. He pointed out that their research seeks to understand the mechanisms of metal and mineral biotransformations, and their environmental and applied significance in bioremediation and biodeterioration. Dr. Gadd stressed that an important mechanism of metal mobilization from minerals is a combination of acidification and ligand-promoted dissolution, that is, if oxalic acid is produced, the production of metal oxalate biominerals may result. However, Dr. Gadd explained that in other cases, mobilized metal species may interact with phosphate. To illustrate these phenomena, he gave examples in his presentation which included the role of fungal communities in the degradation and transformations of rocks and metal-containing minerals, depleted uranium and uranium oxides, and the fungal biodeterioration and biodeteriorative significance of built concrete structures.

Dr. Robson, on the other hand, emphasized in his lecture that plastics and plasticizers due to their wide production and distribution have led to a large increased environmental burden over the last few decade. He also pointed out that while some plastics are relatively recalcitrant in the environment, other plastics such as polyurethane, or plasticizers present in the plastic such as plasticised polyvinylchloride, are susceptible to microbial deterioration and degradation when exposed to the environment. Based on their research, Dr. Robson delineated that fungi play a key role in the deterioration of plastic materials using a combination of culture and molecular-based techniques with the temporal colonization and community organization of the fungi on plastic surfaces. Dr. Robson’s research team investigated the influence of biocides on developing fungal communities that are commonly incorporated into these materials to prolong the life time of the plastic-based materials in the environment.

After the symposium, the participants were able to appreciate the relevance of biotechnology as a catalyst for bioremediation. Moreover, they were also motivated to conduct basic and applied researches to explore for the novel potential of biotechnology as a global solution towards environmental challenges brought about by the exponential proliferation of ecological wastes such as plastics, depleted uranium and uranium oxides.

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