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Bioremediation: purifying mining wastewater with plant-associated microbes

Industrial processes such as mining have led to increased concentrations of nitrogen and heavy metals in soil and water. Post-doctoral researcher Kaisa Lehosmaa works in Anna Maria Pirttilä’s research group at the University of Oulu, studying endophytic microbes living inside moss and other plants and their suitability for water purification.

In Lehosmaa’s research, floating hook-moss proved to be an effective accumulator for metal-rich waters even at low temperatures. When combined with a woodchip bioreactor, the combined unit removed nitrogen particularly well. Lehosmaa and her colleagues used sequencing methods to identify the microbial symbionts of floating hook-moss.

“Sequencing gives an overall picture of the microbial diversity of the moss – that is, how many and what kind of microbes are present. We also want to know which microbial genes are active under various conditions, so that we can understand how microbes could be used more widely in bioremediation.”

The metals and microbes accumulated in the moss tissue are identified through sequencing and traditional microbiological cultivation methods. After identification, metals and microbes are localized in the moss tissue. Identification and localization are used to determine microbes adapted to metal-rich conditions, which could potentially be applied in purification processes. Purification processes are enhanced by adding microbes to the moss tissue.

To analyse microbiome composition, Lehosmaa has used the computational resources of the Finnish ELIXIR node’s CSC ­­– IT Center for Science and its Chipster software.

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