Skip header content and main navigation Binghamton University, State University of New York - News
Binghamton University Newsroom
Binghamton University Newsroom

Asked by: Damen Kingsley
School: Chenango Forks Middle School
Grade: 8
Teacher: Mrs. Church

Video games, karate

Career Interest: Computer engineer


Answered by: Karl Wilson
Title: Professor of Biology, Binghamton University
Department: Biological Sciences
About Scientist:

Research area: Biochemistry, degradation of proteins in plants; seed germination
Ph.D. school: University at Buffalo

Family: Wife (also a faculty member at Binghamton), daughter

Interests/hobbies:  Paleontology, photography, cooking

Web page address:


Date: 11-30-2010

Question: What is the process of bioremediation?


This is a particularly good question, especially in light of the increasing need to reclaim and reuse old industrial sites, and the need to deal with industrial accidents such as the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Bioremediation is the use of living organisms to remove toxic or otherwise undesirable contaminants from the environment. At present bioremediation is best developed in the use of bacteria to remove hydrocarbon contaminants in the soil and ground water – e.g. from gasoline, oil, and solvent spills. In some cases the naturally occurring bacteria in the soil can be used, with the bacteria utilizing the hydrocarbon as "food", breaking it down to carbon dioxide and water. Fertilizers supplying the nitrogen and phosphorous (often limiting nutrients) may be applied to encourage the growth of the bacteria. In other cases the contaminated area is seeded with special strains of bacteria selected for their ability to break down the contaminants. It has also become apparent in recent years that interaction of the bacteria and soil fungi and green plants often improves the rate of contaminant removal. Applied bacteria and fertilizer have also been used, with varying success, to the clean-up of marine oil spills.

Bioremediation is also being explored as a way to remove toxic heavy metal contaminants, such as mercury, cadmium, zinc, and lead, from soil. Such contaminants may be naturally occurring, or be the result of industrial operations such as mining and smelting. Bacteria are not effective in this instance. Instead plants that "hyperaccumulate" the undesirable metal are being studied ('phytoremediation"). The plants are sown on the contaminated ground. As they grow they take up the metal ions from the soil, reducing the metal concentration in the soil while accumulating it in their tissues. The plants are then harvested, and disposed of in a suitable manner. Alternatively, the metal may be recovered from the harvested plant material.



Ask a Scientist appears Thursdays. Questions are answered by faculty at Binghamton University.  Teachers in the greater Binghamton area who wish to participate in the program are asked to write to Ask A Scientist, c/o Binghamton University, Office of Communications and Marketing, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000 or e-mail Check out the Ask a Scientist Web site at To submit a question, download the submission form(.pdf, 460kb).

Connect with Binghamton:
Twitter icon links to Binghamton University's Twitter page YouTube icon links to Binghamton University's YouTube page Facebook icon links to Binghamton University's Facebook page Instagram

Last Updated: 6/22/10