Roles of Biotechnology in Solving Environmental Problems
Author: Cornelius Onye Nichodemus

Man's environment has deteriorated a lot with grievous consequences. There are now convincing evidences that our climate has changed a lot and increasing incidences of floods, typhoons, gully erosions, cyclones etc are attributable to climate change (global warming effects). These are caused by the activities of man a quest for economic development which implies to produce more and consume more. With every kind of production resulting to either environmental degradation, environmental pollution or both. These has made man to develop interest in green cities or eco cities in order to make his environment friendly and fit once more for human existence through reducing environmental degradation and pollution and also waste recycling.
One of the best ways of achieving this is through biotechnology which is the application of scientific and engineering principles to modify and/or use of biological materials to produce goods and services. This includes the use of biological agents such as organisms, tissues, cells or isolated enzymes to convert raw materials to products of greater value or remove waste materials or reduce environmental pollution by producing environmental-friendly alternatives and used for bioremediation of polluted environments (air, soil and water) by in-situ (bio-stimulation, bio-augmentation, phyto-remediation etc) or ex-situ (activated sludge process for water and waste water treatment, air purification systems etc). Generally, genetically modified microrganisms and higher plants can be used to degrade environmental pollutants and phytoremediation processes respectively.
Some examples of biotechnological approaches include:

1. Air purification: This can be achieved through photosynthesis which reduces the carbon dioxide concentration (green house and acid gas), afforestation (planting of trees) and activities of microalgae.

2. Bioremediation of polluted soil and water: Many microorganisms and higher plants are used for bio-adsorption or bio-accumulation of heavy metals for example, Hg, Pb, Cd etc. Also examples of higher plants known for bio-remediation potential are Nicotiana glauca, Brassica junica, Mentha aquatica etc.

3. Reduction in environmental pollution: Biotechnology can be used to minimize environmental pollution by producing environmentally friendly alternatives such as bio-insecticides, bio-fertilizers, bio-degradable plastics and bio-energy. Production of insect/disease resistant crops and animals will also help to reduce the use of chemical insecticides while the use of crop varieties that can yield well in poor soils reduces the use of fertilizers that are major sources of soil and underground water contaminants.

4. Environmental monitoring: Microorganisms, microalgae, higher plants and other lower animals can be used for environmental monitoring. These are very sensitive to certain pollutants and thus used as pollution indicator organisms to identify and quantify the effects of the pollutants.

About Author / Additional Info:
I am a First Class graduate in Plant Science and biotechnology from University of port Harcourt. Currently pursuing my masters degree in plant biotechnology.