We discuss and comment on the role agriculture will play in the containment of the CO2 problem and address protocols for terraforming the planet Earth.
A model farm template is imagined as the central methodology. A broad range of timely science news and other topics of interest are commented on.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
Bacterial Shock to Recapture Essential Phosphate
This will be important and could well provide a biological pathway for
extracting phosphate directly from the sea.I see no particular reason to refine the phosphate any further.Simple collection and dehydration make the
product transportable.Otherwise it is
readily degrades in soils.If we can do
the same for potassium we will be in great shape.
In time, agriculture will convert all soils to a biochar rich growing
media and after that all plant waste will be mostly composted and blended into
biochar rich soils. This will result in almost no significant loss of these
Yet huge swathes of land will need nutrient augmentation and this
certainly appears promising.At the
present, the target is waste water nutrient recovery, but I see it going way
Bacteria could be exploited to
recapture dwindling phosphate reserves from wastewater according to research
presented at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Conference in Dublin
this week. Phosphorus - in the form of phosphate - is essential for all living
things as a component of DNA and RNA and its role in cellular metabolism.
Around 38 million tonnes of phosphorus are extracted each year from rock.
Most of this extracted phosphorus
goes into the production of fertilizers to replace the phosphates
that plants remove from the soil. However, it is a scare natural resource and
current estimates suggest that reserves of phosphate rock may only last for the
next 45-100 years.
Researchers at Queen's
University Belfast (QUB) are developing a novel biological process to remove
extracted phosphate from wastewater - where it ultimately ends up after
Dr John McGrath who is leading
the project explained, "Phosphate in wastewater is a pollutant
that causes increased growth of algae and plants, reducing the oxygen available
for aquatic organisms. This is known as eutrophication and poses the single
biggest threat to water quality in Northern Ireland and indeed globally."
The work at QUB has focused on
microorganisms that capture and store phosphate from wastewater, and how this
process varies under different nutritional and environmental conditions.
"A variety of microbes in
wastewater accumulate phosphorus inside their cells and store it as a
biopolymer known as polyphosphate.
In some cases, this can
represent up to 20% of the dry weight of the microorganism!" explained Dr
McGrath. "If we can harness this process we have a feasible
biotechnological route to remove and recycle phosphate from wastewater."
The team have recently
discovered a physiological 'shock' treatment which significantly increases
microbial uptake of phosphorus and its accumulation inside cells.
"It's similar to jumping
into the sea on a winter's day - the first thing you do is take a sharp intake
of breath. When we shock the microorganisms, their response is to take in
phosphorus," explained Dr McGrath.
"We've demonstrated this
using activated sludge, containing a variety of microbes, from wastewater treatment
works and shown this shock treatment is effective at producing a
phosphorus-rich biomass suitable for phosphorus recycling."
Dr McGrath believes that
developing such biotechnological processes is essential for regenerating
valuable mineral resources. "No alternative to phosphorus exists - we
urgently need to find ways of recovering and recycling phosphates. It's a
pollutant we can't live without." he said.
"Phosphates are currently
removed from wastewater by chemical methods, however this is expensive and
results in the production of large volumes of sludge. In contrast, the process
we are developing is sustainable and efficient."