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With the increasing population, the problem of waste management is increasing. The waste produced is not only damaging the landscape but is seriously affecting human health. Transmission of diseases through microbes and pollution are common problems associated with the improper handling of waste.

Flies, mosquitoes breed over these sites and cause diseases like malaria, dengue, and feco-oral diseases. In order to combat the problem of waste, we have to start with the roots, the reduction in generation of waste through recycling, reusing the materials. The solid waste consists of unwanted and useless solid material generated from human activity in different sectors like residential, industrial, commercial, healthcare.

Depending on the source, solid waste can be categorized into industrial, biomedical and municipal solid waste. The industrial waste includes the toxic, hazardous waste which could be inflammable and cause a serious threat to the environment if left untreated.

Biomedical waste includes the waste generated from hospitals, clinics, dispensaries, veterinary hospitals, etc., which include human anatomical waste, animal waste, soiled waste of plasters, waste sharps, discarded medicines, toxic chemicals, etc. The waste generated from households, communities comes under municipal waste.

To solve the problem of waste in India, some measures have been taken by the Government, like the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan by Prime Minister, NarendraModi. Segregation of waste at source, door-to-door collection, transportation, pre-treatment of the infectious waste and final disposal are some of the major points to be focused on in the proper disposal of solid waste.

The segregation of waste into categories of biodegradable, non-biodegradable, hazardous, infectious at source by the person generating it can help reduce the number of persons coming in contact with the waste. The waste should be transported to incinerators, compost pits and landfills by covering the waste in different colored bags. The incinerators and landfills should be located far away from the residential areas as it can cause damage to the people living nearby.

The landfills should not be left uncovered, as it can cause flies, mosquitoes in the surrounding area which can be the cause of the spread of various diseases. It is also important that the landfills should not contain toxic and hazardous chemicals as they can enter the ground water table through seepage of rainwater.

The municipal waste can be disposed off in the communal pits which are located nearby, as it mostly consists of organic waste. Vermicomposting can also be an alternative method for the treatment of organic waste. It provides manure which can be used by farmers. Organic waste convertors, which are self-sustainable, are readily available in the market of various quantities which has numerous benefits like manure production, gas production which can be used for cooking purpose.

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Biotechnology has given rise to biofuel. The use of limited resources has forced us to think about the optimum utility of renewable resources for human consumption across the globe. Biodiesel is one such fuel that illustrates the importance of a renewable source of energy. Biodiesel is an alternative renewable fuel that is produced from vegetable oils, animal fats, spent frying oils and microbial oils.  Greases and Jatropha are also sources of biodiesel and constitute non-edible sources.

A major challenge in using non-edible sources, however, props up in the form of utilization of large scale land, which can cause scarcity of agricultural land for edible crops. To circumvent this problem, microalgae have been used to create biodiesel. Microalgae have high photosynthetic efficiency and can grow in diverse environmental conditions that include high salinity, toxic metal content, presence of toxicants and high CO2 concentration.

Moreover, microalgae can grow in non-arable lands like sea coasts and deserts. The growth of microalgae in water is controllable and non-potable water can also be used. Most microalgae like Scenedesmus and Chlorella have short life cycles, usually less than 24 hours and they have high oil productivity per hectare. Many species of microalgae have been identified to be sources of renewable fuel. Groups from diverse parts have engaged in the development of renewable fuel.

It has been seen that the addition of iron to growth medium under nitrate limitation was found to enhance the crude lipid content of Chlorella to 56.6%. Biodiesel is produced by the synthesis of fatty acid methyl esters – FAME, that involves a transesterification reaction between fatty acid and alcohol.

This step is known to be economical but generates industrial waste that is a hazard.  In this method, pre-extraction is carried out of the oil from the raw material. Nowadays, In situ transesterification has been developed as in this method the pre-extraction and esterification are combined in a single step. The production of industrial waste is countered in this method. Thus, with research and innovation in biotechnology, humans are better equipped to face the challenges of the future.

The horizon of excellence was visible as Chandrayaan – 2 lifted off successfully to explore the moon, representing the scientific exuberance that India has in its armour. More interestingly the passion for scientific excellence has spread to many Indians and in the spectrum of areas available, Biotechnology is one that is booming. The aspirations of people are many and one of them is the development of insect-resistant crops.

The hard work of a farmer is at risk of loss when insects and pests attack a crop. The dedication with which crops are cultivated has now been supported robustly by the utilization of Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium. This bacterium which has a size of one or few microns i.e. one thousand of a millimetre has been effective in battling insects that spoil crops. This bacterium is abbreviated as Bt. It has been applied for the betterment of crop productivity by expressing its biological trait as well. The bacterium could be used as an inhabitant of the soil. First discovered in Japan in 1901 and subsequently in Germany in 1911, the bacterium has been used for a century. These bacteria can be used as a liquid spray or their genes can be introduced into a plant for expressing proteins that help a plant to survive. This microorganism has a gene, Cry1Ac, that produces a protein that targets the digestive tract of harmful Lepidoptera moths and caterpillars but is not derogatory for humans or harmless animals.  The gene that produces such a protein has been cloned in seeds of crops, making them resistant to attack by insects that feed on them.  Bt cotton in India and Australia have been blockbuster success frontiers that have caused the good output of the product. Before the inception of Bt cotton, the pink bollworm wreaked havoc in Indian fields but now that problem has been countered. Corn borers caused so much damage to corn in the 1960s, that they were labelled “ billion-dollar pest”. Bt has been the tool of choice to evade this menace. The other advantage is that this technique reduces the use of other topical insecticides that are harmful to human health. To summarize, Biotechnology has been a great provider of protection to agriculture and in boosting productivity.

The advent of biotechnology is prominent. Gone are the winds of insipid excitement and permanent are the forces of renovation that contain historic achievements. The use of microbes that have inhabited the earth for millions of years, for bioremedial techniques illustrates the fact that natural history paves a way for present development. Bioremediation of toxic metals from groundwater is an advantage that biotechnology has provided for human health. Arsenic is a toxic metal that can be removed from water by arsenic oxidizing bacteria. The bacteria are used for oxidation of Arsenite As(III) to As(V), that can be easily separated from the water. Many heterotrophic bacteria oxidize As(III)  to detoxify their immediate environment. On the contrary, some bacteria behave as agents that use As(III) as electron donors. Various molecular markers have been identified to recognize bacteria with potential arsenic oxidizing activity such as 16s rRNA, aioA, arsB and others. By oxidizing the more toxic Arsenic As (III) to less toxic As(V) and concomitantly gaining energy, such bacteria have an appreciable ecological advantage over their counterparts. The As oxidase gene has been characterized by bacteria. A study has confirmed that the As oxidase gene is a very ancient gene. In certain ways, Arra and As oxidase have been found to be similar.

Classical technologies are efficient in removal of  As(V) but not As(III). There are also cost intensive. Here Biotechnology counters the problem. Biocolumn reactors with immobilised bacterial cells have been used. A novel cost effective biocomposite- granules of cement coated with cysts of certain cyanobacteria has been studied The composite has been proven to remove 96% arsenic. Many such biocolumns or devices have been made that harness the ability of bacteria to remove As(III) and As(V). The efficiency of these has been very high. Thus techniques of biotechnology have been effectively used to clean drinking water from arsenic. Similar approaches have been taken for remediation of other toxic metals like cadmium, excessive Iron and others. Biotechnology is critically involved in the maintenance of human health.

Environmental Biotechnology is a dynamic branch of Biotechnology that deals with the improvement of the environment and microbes that remediate the problems of the environment.  This important branch of biotechnology harnesses the power of microbes to sequester toxic chemicals from contaminated sites. This field is a combination of biology and engineering.

In modern times, rapid industrial growth has led to drastic increase in pollution; Pollutants have been added to our environment in gigantic proportions by human activities. To ameliorate this problem, Environmental biotechnology is a potent tool. This field is known to include techniques like development of plants for filtration of pollutants in air, soil and water, synthesis of biofuel and optimization of sustainable process.

The benefits of environmental biotechnology have been observed in the production of biofuel from the Jatropha plant. Moreover, cotton waste has also been used to generate ethanol via fermentation. Such fuels are required very much for human activities as conventional fuels are limited in amount. Bioremediation is another critically important field that used recombinant microorganisms to clear contaminated land sites of toxic metals like cadmium, arsenic, etc. The use of earthworms for treatment of wastewater, called vermifiltration, has been effectively used.

In government organisations, jobs are aplenty for qualified personnel of Environmental Biotechnology. Their work is contributory in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, town planning offices, sewage treatment plants, etc.  Thus a plethora of societal and economic applications of environmental biotechnology are to be made in the current time and in the future.


Listen to the expert Dr. Sonika Saxena, Vice Principal, Dr. B. Lal Institute of Biotechnology, Jaipur below!

The environment is an important component necessary for the existence of both mankind and other biotic organisms. The degree of sustainability of the physical environment is an index of the survival and well-being of the entire components in it.

But, human’s activities in his environment involve a lot of chemical synthesis in the process of converting the natural products in his environment into other forms convenient for his utility. In the process of creating products, the man also creates problems either consciously or unconsciously vis-à-vis pollution. The most acceptable solution to the generated wastes in the environment is such that will conveniently integrate them back into the environment.

That method involves the use of microorganisms—usually yeasts, bacteria, or fungi as a whole cell usage production system or in the form of industrial enzymes. In many cases these microorganisms or their products are integrated into the substrates which give us the products, desired in the industries, examples of these are bioleaching (biomining), bio detergent, biotreatment of pulp, biotreatment of wastes (bioremediation), biofiltration, aquaculture treatments, biotreatment of textiles, biocatalysts, biomass fuel production, biomonitoring, and so forth. These are tools (biotechnological tools), which could solve the problem of pollution and help sustain the environment.

This is so because when the products or their constituents are discarded, they go back into the ecosystem. As such, they become reconverted into organic components of the environments. Moreover, their production is strictly biological instead of chemical.