The use of genetically engineered microorganisms is a practice that has been occurring since the 1970s. Due to the broad spectrum of applications for bioremediation, as human interference is causing enormous damage to the environment, this has become a promising field of study. The bioengineered microbes are created by identifying and subsequently manipulating the genetic sequences of naturally occurring bacteria. They are designed with consideration of the interaction between microbes and xenobiotics, using aspects such as genetic basis, biochemical organisms, operon structure, and environmental function.
There are multiple methods of genetic engineering used. Microorganisms that are eligible for modification are identified based on relevant genes. For example, some bacteria are only able to survive and function in specific environments. Another approach is the use of pathway construction and extension, which improves catabolic mechanisms in the bacteria, allowing it to degrade a wider range of compounds than a natural strain.
Modification of enzyme affinity is also possible, altering enzymatic activity and transformation capabilities, thus, creating a gene cluster able to degrade complex compounds. Finally, an approach more applicable for research purposes allows monitoring or control of the bacterial bioprocesses through the use of chemical or bioluminescence substances. It helps to learn and evaluate the natural processes of bioremediation.
The use of genetically modified bacteria for the purposes of bioremediation is necessary. Firstly, bioremediation is the most ecologically viable and non-intrusive method of environmental cleanup. Although catastrophic events such as oil spills result in a natural increase of hydrocarbon-degenerating microbes, the extent of the disaster may be increasingly damaging to the environment. For example, certain substances which are highly nitrated and halogenated would be toxic to microbial populations with biochemical reactions creating challenges for natural biodegradation. Furthermore, these chemical compounds may be stable and chemically inert in natural conditions, which would make the process of natural bioremediation ineffective. Therefore, the use of genetically modified organisms has significantly promising potential and applications in resolving human-caused ecologically damaging disasters such as oil spills.