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Trends in Microbiology
Volume 29 (10), 2021, Pages 908-918

Enhancing Microbial Pollutant Degradation by Integrating Eco-Evolutionary Principles with Environmental Biotechnology

Erik Borchert1,4, Katrin Hammerschmidt2,4, Ute Hentschel1,3, Peter Deines1

RD3 Marine Symbioses, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Kiel, Germany.


Environmental accumulation of anthropogenic pollutants is a pressing global issue. The biodegradation of these pollutants by microbes is an emerging field but is hampered by inefficient degradation rates and a limited knowledge of potential enzymes and pathways. Here, we advocate the view that significant progress can be achieved by harnessing artificial community selection for a desired biological process, an approach that makes use of eco-evolutionary principles. The selected communities can either be directly used in bioremediation applications or further be analyzed and modified, for instance through a combination of systems biology, synthetic biology, and genetic engineering. This knowledge can then inform machine learning and enhance the discovery of novel biodegradation pathways.

Keywords: bioremediation, biodegradation, anthropogenic pollutants, artificial community selection, eco-evolutionary dynamics, cross-feeding interactions.

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