Environmental biotechnology "manages microbial communities to provide services to society." The key services today include detoxifying contaminated water and soil to reclaim lost resources and converting diffuse energy in biomass to forms easily used by society. Two timely examples are the reduction of oxidized water contaminants (e.g., nitrate, perchlorate, selenate, and chlorinated solvents) and the production of methane, hydrogen, and electricity. The key science underlying environmental biotechnology is microbial ecology, which has advanced rapidly in the past 20 or so years through the proliferation of new genomics-based techniques to characterize the communities' structure and function. The genomic methods provide detailed information that helps us understand what aspects of the microbial community need to be managed to ensure that it provides the desired service. Often, we achieve the management goals through partnering the microorganisms with modern materials and physical/chemical processes. The membrane biofilm reactor and microbial fuel cells offer excellent examples of exciting new technologies that come directly from this kind of partnering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)348-353
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Environmental Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Bioenergy
  • Bioreduction
  • Biotechnology
  • Genomics
  • Microbial ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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