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Environmental pollution promotes selection of microbial degradation pathways
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Astonishing as it may seem, one organism's waste is often ideal food for another. Many waste products generated by human activities are routinely degraded by microorganisms under controlled conditions during waste-water treatment. Toxic pollutants resulting from inadvertent releases, such as oil spills, are also consumed by bacteria, the simplest organisms on Earth. Biodegradation of toxic or particularly persistent compounds, however, remains problematic. What has escaped the attention of many is that bacteria exposed to pollutants can adapt to them by mutating or acquiring degradative genes. These bacteria can proliferate in the environment as a result of the selection pressures created by pollutants. The positive outcome of selection pressure is that harmful compounds may eventually be broken down completely through biodegradation. The downside is that biodegradation may require extremely long periods of time. Although the adaptation process has been shown to be reproducible, it remains very difficult to predict.
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