Research Report

Beyond Traditional Bioremediation: The Potential of Engineered SynComs in Tackling Complex Environmental Pollutants  

Lizhen Han
College of Life Science, Guizhou University, Guiyang, 550025, Guizhou, China
Author    Correspondence author
Genomics and Applied Biology, 2024, Vol. 15, No. 2   doi: 10.5376/gab.2024.15.0009
Received: 04 Feb., 2024    Accepted: 06 Mar., 2024    Published: 18 Mar., 2024
© 2024 BioPublisher Publishing Platform
This is an open access article published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Preferred citation for this article:

Han L.Z., 2024, Beyond traditional bioremediation: the potential of engineered SynComs in tackling complex environmental pollutants, Genomics and Applied Biology, 15(1): 54-64 (doi: 10.5376/gab.2024.15.0008)


Environmental pollution remains a critical global challenge, necessitating innovative and effective remediation strategies. Traditional bioremediation methods, while eco-friendly and socially acceptable, often fall short in addressing complex and recalcitrant pollutants. Recent advancements in systems biology and metabolic engineering have paved the way for the development of engineered synthetic microbial communities (SynComs) with enhanced bioremediation capabilities. This systematic review explores the potential of engineered SynComs in tackling complex environmental pollutants. By integrating systems biology approaches, we can analyze microbial behavior at a community level under various environmental stresses, providing crucial insights for metabolic engineering. Techniques such as recombinant DNA technology, gene editing tools, and the CRISPR-Cas system have been instrumental in constructing metabolically engineered microbial strains capable of degrading complex pollutants. Furthermore, the co-cultivation of multiple engineered microbial communities presents a promising avenue for the bioremediation of mixed and complex wastes. This review highlights the significant strides made in synthetic biology and multidisciplinary technologies, emphasizing their role in developing efficient and safe microbial scavengers for environmental recovery.

Bioremediation; Engineered SynComs; Systems biology; Metabolic engineering; Synthetic biology; Environmental pollutants; Microbial scavengers; CRISPR-Cas; Recombinant DNA technology

Environmental pollution, driven by the persistent disposal of xenobiotic compounds such as insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers, plastics, and hydrocarbons, poses a significant threat to ecosystems and human health (Sharma et al., 2018). Traditional bioremediation methods, which leverage the natural metabolic capabilities of microorganisms to degrade pollutants, have been widely employed to mitigate this issue. These methods include the use of microbial consortia and enzyme-based technologies to break down hazardous substances into less harmful forms (Jiao et al., 2016; Sharma et al., 2018). Despite their potential, traditional bioremediation approaches often fall short in addressing the complexity and diversity of environmental pollutants.


One of the primary limitations of traditional bioremediation is the insufficient degradation efficiency of naturally occurring microorganisms, which are not evolved to tackle the wide array of synthetic pollutants introduced by human activities (Sharma et al., 2018). Additionally, the stability and activity of microbial enzymes in natural environments can be compromised, limiting their effectiveness (Sharma et al., 2018). The complexity of environmental matrices and the presence of multiple contaminants further complicate the bioremediation process, often requiring prolonged treatment times and extensive monitoring (Jiao et al., 2016). These challenges highlight the need for more advanced and efficient bioremediation strategies.


Recent advancements in synthetic biology have paved the way for the development of synthetic microbial communities (SynComs), which are engineered consortia of microorganisms designed to enhance bioremediation efficiency (Dvořák et al., 2017; Sharma et al., 2018). SynComs are constructed using multidisciplinary technologies, including genetic engineering, systems biology, and metabolic engineering, to optimize the degradation pathways and improve the resilience of microbial communities in polluted environments (Sharma et al., 2018). These engineered communities can be tailored to target specific pollutants, offering a more robust and versatile solution to environmental contamination.


This systematic review aims to explore the potential of engineered SynComs in addressing the limitations of traditional bioremediation methods and tackling complex environmental pollutants. By synthesizing recent research and technological advancements, this review will provide a comprehensive overview of the strategies employed in the construction and application of SynComs for enhanced bioremediation. The significance of this review lies in its potential to inform future research and development in environmental biotechnology, ultimately contributing to more effective and sustainable pollution management practices.


1. Overview of Traditional Bioremediation Techniques

1.1 Description of bioremediation processes

Bioremediation is a process that utilizes microorganisms, plants, or microbial enzymes to detoxify and remove environmental contaminants. The primary techniques include bioaugmentation, biostimulation, and phytoremediation. Bioaugmentation involves the introduction of specific strains of microorganisms to contaminated sites to enhance the degradation of pollutants. These microorganisms are often selected for their ability to break down specific contaminants (Ahluwalia and Sekhon, 2012; Gaur et al., 2018). Biostimulation entails the modification of the environment to stimulate the existing microbial community capable of degrading contaminants. This can be achieved by adding nutrients, oxygen, or other amendments to enhance microbial activity (Ahluwalia and Sekhon, 2012; Gaur et al., 2018). Phytoremediation uses plants to absorb, sequester, and detoxify pollutants from soil and water. Plants can uptake contaminants through their roots and either store them in their tissues or transform them into less harmful substances (Ahluwalia and Sekhon, 2012).


1.2 Success stories and case studies

Several successful applications of traditional bioremediation techniques have been documented:


Oil Spill Remediation: Bioaugmentation and biostimulation have been effectively used to clean up oil spills. For instance, genetically engineered microorganisms have been employed to degrade oil in contaminated marine environments, significantly reducing the impact of oil spills (Ahluwalia and Sekhon, 2012). Heavy Metal Contamination: Phytoremediation has shown success in the removal of heavy metals from contaminated soils. Transgenic plants engineered to express metal-binding proteins have been used to sequester heavy metals, thereby reducing their bioavailability and toxicity (Ahluwalia and Sekhon, 2012).


Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs): Microbial degradation of POPs such as pesticides, PCBs, and PAHs has been achieved through bioaugmentation and biostimulation. Specific microbial strains capable of breaking down these complex compounds have been identified and utilized in various bioremediation projects (Gaur et al., 2018).


1.3 Limitations and challenges

Despite the successes, traditional bioremediation techniques face several limitations and challenges:


Site-Specific Effectiveness: The effectiveness of bioremediation can be highly site-specific, depending on factors such as the type of contaminant, environmental conditions, and the presence of suitable microbial communities (Gaur et al., 2018). Time-Consuming: Bioremediation processes can be slow, often taking months or even years to achieve significant contaminant reduction. This can be a major drawback in situations requiring rapid remediation (Ahluwalia and Sekhon, 2012). Incomplete Degradation: In some cases, bioremediation may not completely degrade contaminants, leading to the accumulation of intermediate products that may still be harmful (Gaur et al., 2018). Environmental Conditions: Factors such as pH, temperature, and nutrient availability can significantly impact the efficiency of bioremediation. Adverse conditions may inhibit microbial activity and reduce the overall effectiveness of the process (Ahluwalia and Sekhon, 2012).


In summary, while traditional bioremediation techniques have demonstrated significant potential in addressing environmental pollution, they are not without their limitations. Advances in genetic engineering and interdisciplinary research are paving the way for more efficient and reliable bioremediation strategies, including the use of engineered synthetic microbial communities (SynComs) to tackle complex environmental pollutants (Ahluwalia and Sekhon, 2012; Gaur et al., 2018).


2 Synthetic Microbial Communities (SynComs)

2.1 Definition and types of SynComs

Synthetic Microbial Communities (SynComs) are artificially designed consortia of microorganisms that are engineered to perform specific functions, such as the degradation of environmental pollutants. Unlike natural microbial communities, SynComs are constructed with a precise composition and functionality, allowing for targeted and efficient bioremediation processes. These communities can be composed of bacteria, fungi, or a combination of different microbial species, each selected for their unique metabolic capabilities and synergistic interactions (Chen et al., 1999; Perpetuo et al., 2011; Tran et al., 2021; Han, 2024).


2.2 Techniques for engineering SynComs

2.2.1 Genetic engineering

Genetic engineering involves the direct manipulation of an organism's genes using biotechnology. This technique is used to introduce new genetic material or modify existing genes to enhance the biodegradation capabilities of microorganisms. For instance, genes responsible for the breakdown of specific pollutants can be inserted into microbial genomes, creating strains with enhanced bioremediation potential. Recent advances in genetic engineering, such as CRISPR-Cas systems, have significantly improved the precision and efficiency of these modifications (Chen et al., 1999; Benjamin et al., 2019; Sharma and Shukla, 2020).


2.2.2 Metabolic engineering

Metabolic engineering focuses on the optimization of metabolic pathways within microorganisms to improve their ability to degrade pollutants. This involves the introduction, deletion, or modification of metabolic pathways to enhance the production of enzymes that break down contaminants. Techniques such as recombinant DNA technology and gene editing tools are employed to construct metabolically engineered microbial strains capable of degrading complex pollutants. The co-cultivation of multiple metabolically engineered microbial communities can also be crucial for the bioremediation of multiple and complex pollutants (Dangi et al., 2018; Sharma and Shukla, 2020).


2.2.3 Synthetic biology tools

Synthetic biology combines principles from biology and engineering to design and construct new biological parts, devices, and systems. This field provides a suite of tools for the creation of SynComs, including the design of synthetic gene circuits, modular genetic elements, and biosensors. These tools enable the precise control of microbial behavior and interactions within SynComs, leading to more efficient and predictable bioremediation processes. Synthetic biology also facilitates the development of microbial scavengers with improved efficiency of biodegradation while minimizing their impact on ecosystems (Perpetuo et al., 2011; Sharma et al., 2018; Tran et al., 2021).


2.3 Advantages of SynComs over traditional bioremediation

SynComs offer several advantages over traditional bioremediation methods. Firstly, they can be tailored to target specific pollutants, making them more efficient in degrading complex and recalcitrant contaminants. Secondly, the use of engineered microbial communities can enhance the stability and resilience of the bioremediation process, as the interactions between different microbial species can lead to synergistic effects that improve overall degradation efficiency. Additionally, SynComs can be designed to minimize the ecological impact of bioremediation, reducing the risk of unintended consequences on native microbial communities and ecosystems (Chen et al., 1999; Benjamin et al., 2019; Tran et al., 2021).


In summary, the development and application of SynComs represent a significant advancement in the field of bioremediation. By leveraging genetic engineering, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology tools, researchers can create highly efficient and targeted microbial communities capable of tackling complex environmental pollutants. This approach holds great promise for addressing the growing challenges of environmental contamination in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner.


3 Applications of Engineered SynComs in Bioremediation

3.1 Case studies and examples of SynComs used in bioremediation

Engineered synthetic microbial communities (SynComs) have shown significant promise in the field of bioremediation. One notable example is the use of biochar hybrid modified bio-microcapsules to enhance the degradation of phenanthrene in soil. This approach involved the immobilization of degrading bacteria within layer-by-layer assembly microcapsules, which were further modified with biochar. The results demonstrated a higher degradation efficiency of phenanthrene, achieving 80.5% degradation after 25 days compared to 66.2% with non-modified microcapsules (Deng et al., 2021). Another study highlighted the use of synthetically engineered microbial scavengers to degrade fastidious pollutants, greenhouse gases, and microplastics. These engineered microbes were designed to have improved efficiency in biodegradation while minimizing their ecological impact (Tran et al., 2021).


3.2 Success stories in different environments (soil, water, air)

The application of engineered SynComs has yielded success in various environmental contexts. In soil environments, the biochar hybrid modified bio-microcapsules demonstrated enhanced phenanthrene degradation, showcasing the potential of SynComs in soil bioremediation (Deng et al., 2021). In aquatic environments, engineered microbial scavengers have been employed to degrade complex pollutants, including microplastics and greenhouse gases, thereby contributing to the restoration of water quality (Tran et al., 2021). Although specific examples of air bioremediation using SynComs are less documented, the principles of microbial enzyme degradation suggest potential applications in air purification by targeting airborne pollutants through catalytic reactions (Saravanan et al., 2021).


3.3 Mechanisms of action for pollutant degradation

The mechanisms by which engineered SynComs degrade pollutants are multifaceted and involve various biochemical pathways. One primary mechanism is the use of microbial enzymes, such as hydrolases, oxidoreductases, dehalogenases, oxygenases, and transferases, which catalyze the breakdown of toxic pollutants into non-toxic forms (Saravanan et al., 2021). In the case of biochar hybrid modified bio-microcapsules, the strong adsorption properties of biochar enhance the mass transfer of pollutants to the degrading bacteria, thereby improving the overall degradation efficiency. Additionally, biochar stimulates bacterial metabolism and membrane transport, further facilitating pollutant breakdown (Deng et al., 2021). Metabolic engineering techniques, including the use of recombinant DNA technology and CRISPR-Cas systems, have also been employed to create microbial strains with enhanced degradation capabilities. These techniques enable the assembly of catabolic modules from different origins within a single microbial cell, expanding the range of substrates that can be degraded (Sharma and Shukla, 2020).


In summary, the application of engineered SynComs in bioremediation has shown promising results across different environments, utilizing advanced genetic and biochemical strategies to enhance pollutant degradation. The continued development and optimization of these systems hold great potential for addressing complex environmental pollutants effectively.


4 Addressing Complex Environmental Pollutants

4.1 Definition and examples of complex pollutants

Complex environmental pollutants are substances that pose significant challenges to degradation due to their chemical stability, toxicity, and persistence in the environment. These pollutants include heavy metals such as cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), zinc (Zn), and nickel (Ni), as well as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), plastics, and various agrochemicals (Garg, 2020; Akash et al., 2022; Bala et al., 2022). These compounds are often introduced into the environment through industrial activities, agricultural practices, and improper waste disposal, leading to widespread contamination of soil, water, and air (Akash et al., 2022; Bala et al., 2022).


4.2 Challenges in degrading complex pollutants

The degradation of complex pollutants presents several challenges. Firstly, their chemical stability and resistance to natural degradation processes make them persistent in the environment (Garg, 2020; Bala et al., 2022). Heavy metals, for instance, cannot be broken down into less toxic forms and tend to accumulate in the ecosystem, posing long-term risks to human health and the environment (Akash et al., 2022). Similarly, POPs are resistant to environmental degradation due to their stable chemical structures, leading to bioaccumulation and biomagnification in the food chain (Garg, 2020; Bala et al., 2022).


Traditional bioremediation methods often fall short in addressing these pollutants due to the limited metabolic capabilities of natural microbial communities (Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Tran et al., 2021). The presence of multiple contaminants can also inhibit microbial activity, further complicating the bioremediation process (Garg, 2020). Additionally, the heterogeneity of contaminated sites and varying environmental conditions can affect the efficiency of bioremediation efforts (Akash et al., 2022; Bala et al., 2022).


4.3 Role of SynComs in addressing these challenges

4.3.1 Enhanced degradation pathways

Engineered synthetic microbial communities (SynComs) offer a promising solution to the challenges posed by complex pollutants. By leveraging synthetic biology and metabolic engineering, SynComs can be designed to possess enhanced degradation pathways that are not naturally present in wild-type microorganisms (Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Tran et al., 2021). For example, the introduction of catabolic modules from different origins into a single microbial cell can create new metabolic pathways capable of breaking down recalcitrant compounds (Sharma and Shukla, 2020). This approach allows for the degradation of a broader range of pollutants, including those that are typically resistant to natural biodegradation processes (Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Tran et al., 2021).


4.3.2 Synergistic interactions between community members

The effectiveness of SynComs is further enhanced by the synergistic interactions between different microbial species within the community. These interactions can lead to improved pollutant degradation through cooperative metabolic processes and the sharing of metabolic intermediates (Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Tran et al., 2021). For instance, one microbial species may partially degrade a pollutant into a less complex form, which can then be further broken down by another species within the SynCom (Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Tran et al., 2021). This division of labor not only enhances the overall efficiency of pollutant degradation but also allows for the simultaneous treatment of multiple contaminants (Sharma and Shukla, 2020).


In conclusion, the use of engineered SynComs represents a significant advancement in the field of bioremediation, offering new avenues for the effective treatment of complex environmental pollutants. By harnessing the power of synthetic biology and microbial cooperation, SynComs can overcome the limitations of traditional bioremediation methods and contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable environment.


5 Advances in SynCom Engineering

5.1 Recent technological advancements

5.1.1 CRISPR and gene editing

The advent of CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies has revolutionized the field of synthetic community (SynCom) engineering. CRISPR/Cas9, in particular, has enabled precise and efficient genome editing, facilitating the modification of microbial genomes to enhance their bioremediation capabilities. This technology allows for the targeted manipulation of genes responsible for pollutant degradation, metal tolerance, and other relevant traits (Yang et al., 2021; Chan et al., 2022; Huang et al., 2022). Additionally, the integration of CRISPR with other molecular tools such as zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) has expanded the gene-editing toolbox, providing more options for precise genetic modifications (Holcomb et al., 2022; Ramesh et al., 2022; Gu et al., 2023).


5.1.2 High-throughput screening

High-throughput screening (HTS) technologies have significantly accelerated the identification and optimization of microbial strains with desired bioremediation properties. These technologies enable the rapid screening of large microbial libraries to identify strains with enhanced pollutant degradation capabilities. HTS approaches, combined with directed evolution and rational design, have been instrumental in engineering microorganisms with improved enzymatic activities and substrate specificities for the degradation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (Ancos-Pintado et al., 2022).


5.1.3 Omics technologies (genomics, proteomics, metabolomics)

Omics technologies, including genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics, have provided comprehensive insights into the functional attributes and mechanisms of microbial communities. These technologies facilitate the characterization of microbial genomes, gene expression profiles, protein functions, and metabolic pathways, enabling a deeper understanding of microbial interactions and their roles in pollutant degradation (Zhang et al., 2021; Salame et al., 2022). The integration of omics data with CRISPR-based genome editing has further enhanced the ability to engineer SynComs with tailored functionalities for specific environmental applications (Salame et al., 2022).


5.2 Optimization strategies for SynCom efficiency

Optimization strategies for SynCom efficiency involve the fine-tuning of microbial interactions and metabolic pathways to maximize pollutant degradation. This includes the use of synthetic biology approaches to design and construct microbial consortia with complementary metabolic capabilities. Additionally, adaptive laboratory evolution (ALE) and metabolic engineering techniques are employed to enhance the robustness and efficiency of SynComs under various environmental conditions. The application of machine learning and computational modeling also plays a crucial role in predicting and optimizing the performance of engineered SynComs (Zhang et al., 2021; Ancos-Pintado et al., 2022).


5.3 Future directions and emerging trends

The future of SynCom engineering lies in the continued integration of advanced biotechnological tools and interdisciplinary approaches. Emerging trends include the development of more sophisticated CRISPR-based systems for multiplexed genome editing and the use of synthetic biology to create modular and programmable microbial consortia. Additionally, the application of multi-omics data and systems biology approaches will further enhance the design and optimization of SynComs for complex environmental applications. The exploration of novel microbial species and the harnessing of natural microbial diversity will also contribute to the development of more effective and resilient SynComs for bioremediation (Yang et al., 2021; Zhang et al., 2021; Huang et al., 2022; Salame et al., 2022; Gu et al., 2023).


In summary, recent technological advancements in CRISPR and gene editing, high-throughput screening, and omics technologies have significantly advanced the field of SynCom engineering. Optimization strategies and emerging trends point towards a future where engineered SynComs can effectively tackle complex environmental pollutants, offering promising solutions for environmental sustainability.


6 Environmental and Safety Considerations

6.1 Potential risks and ethical considerations

The deployment of engineered synthetic microbial communities (SynComs) for bioremediation presents several potential risks and ethical considerations. One of the primary concerns is the unintended ecological impact of releasing genetically engineered microorganisms (GEMs) into the environment. These organisms could potentially disrupt local ecosystems, outcompete native species, or transfer genetic material to other organisms, leading to unforeseen consequences (Pant et al., 2020; Tran et al., 2021; Wu et al., 2021). Additionally, there is the risk of GEMs evolving or mutating in ways that could make them harmful or less controllable (Naismith, 2021). Ethical considerations also arise regarding the manipulation of microbial genomes and the long-term implications of such interventions on biodiversity and natural ecosystems (Pant et al., 2020; Wu et al., 2021).


6.2 Environmental impact assessments

Before the widespread application of SynComs, comprehensive environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are crucial. These assessments should evaluate the potential for GEMs to persist in the environment, their interactions with native microbial communities, and their overall effectiveness in degrading pollutants without causing secondary pollution (Tran et al., 2021; Wu et al., 2021; Bala et al., 2022). Studies have shown that while GEMs can be highly effective in bioremediation, their environmental behavior must be thoroughly understood to mitigate any adverse effects (Ihsanullah et al., 2020; Pant et al., 2020). Furthermore, EIAs should include long-term monitoring to track the fate and impact of GEMs post-deployment (Naismith, 2021; Wu et al., 2021).


6.3 Regulatory frameworks and guidelines

The use of GEMs in bioremediation is subject to stringent regulatory frameworks and guidelines to ensure safety and efficacy. Current regulations often require case-by-case assessments of GEMs, considering factors such as their genetic modifications, intended use, and potential environmental impact (Naismith, 2021). Regulatory bodies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have established guidelines for the field release of GEMs, emphasizing the need for rigorous risk assessments and containment strategies (Naismith, 2021). However, there is a need for more comprehensive and harmonized international regulations to address the global nature of environmental pollution and the transboundary movement of pollutants and GEMs (Naismith, 2021; Wu et al., 2021).


6.4 Public perception and acceptance

Public perception and acceptance play a critical role in the successful implementation of SynComs for bioremediation. There is often public skepticism and concern regarding the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) due to potential health and environmental risks (Naismith, 2021). Effective communication and transparency about the benefits, risks, and regulatory measures in place are essential to gain public trust and acceptance (Naismith, 2021; Wu et al., 2021). Engaging with stakeholders, including local communities, environmental groups, and policymakers, can help address concerns and foster a collaborative approach to bioremediation efforts (Pant et al., 2020; Naismith, 2021). Public education campaigns and participatory decision-making processes can also enhance the acceptance and support for the use of SynComs in tackling complex environmental pollutants (Naismith, 2021).


In conclusion, while engineered SynComs hold significant promise for addressing complex environmental pollutants, careful consideration of environmental and safety aspects is paramount. Rigorous risk assessments, robust regulatory frameworks, and proactive public engagement are essential to ensure the safe and effective use of these advanced bioremediation technologies.


7 Case Studies and Real-World Applications

7.1 Detailed analysis of significant case studies

Several significant case studies highlight the potential of engineered synthetic microbial communities (SynComs) in bioremediation. For instance, genetically engineered microbes (GEMs) have been successfully utilized to degrade a variety of pollutants, including oil spills, camphor, hexane, naphthalene, toluene, octane, xylene, halobenzoates, and trichloroethylene (Pant et al., 2020). These engineered microbes exhibit higher degradative capacities and quicker adaptation to various pollutants compared to natural strains.


Another notable case involves the use of synthetic microbial scavengers designed through synthetic biology techniques. These scavengers have been applied to degrade fastidious pollutants, greenhouse gases, and microplastics, demonstrating enhanced efficiency in bioremediation while minimizing ecological impacts (Tran et al., 2021). Additionally, microbial electrochemistry has been employed in bioelectrochemical systems (BESs) to provide or extract electrons precisely, facilitating the reduction of metals, denitrification, and dechlorination processes (Wang et al., 2020).


7.2 Lessons learned and best practices

From these case studies, several lessons and best practices have emerged. Firstly, the use of GEMs and synthetic microbial scavengers underscores the importance of genetic engineering in enhancing the biodegradation capabilities of microorganisms. The transformation of microbes with potent proteins to overexpress desired traits has proven to be a successful strategy (Pant et al., 2020; Tran et al., 2021).


Moreover, the integration of multidisciplinary technologies, such as microbial electrochemistry, has shown that precise control over electron donors and acceptors can significantly improve bioremediation outcomes (Wang et al., 2020). This approach mitigates the limitations associated with traditional methods, such as the difficulty in controlling chemical additions and the formation of residues.


Best practices also include the co-cultivation of metabolically engineered microbial communities, which can be crucial for the bioremediation of multiple and complex pollutants. This strategy leverages the synergistic interactions between different microbial strains to enhance overall degradation efficiency (Sharma and Shukla, 2020).


7.3 Comparative analysis with traditional methods

When compared to traditional bioremediation methods, engineered SynComs offer several advantages. Traditional methods often rely on natural microbial strains, which may not be evolved to degrade specific pollutants efficiently. In contrast, engineered microbes are designed to possess higher degradative capacities and quicker adaptation to various pollutants (Pant et al., 2020; Tran et al., 2021).


Furthermore, traditional physical and chemical remediation techniques are often expensive and can be toxic to the environment. Engineered SynComs provide a safer and more cost-effective alternative, reducing the need for harmful chemical additives and minimizing ecological disruption (Pant et al., 2020).


Microbial electrochemistry, as an emerging technology, also offers a more controlled and sustainable approach compared to traditional methods. By precisely supplying or extracting electrons, bioelectrochemical systems can enhance the efficiency of bioremediation processes, such as metal reduction and dechlorination, without the adverse side effects associated with chemical additions (Wang et al., 2020).


In summary, the application of engineered SynComs in bioremediation represents a significant advancement over traditional methods, offering enhanced efficiency, safety, and sustainability in tackling complex environmental pollutants.


8 Discussion and Conclusion

The review of recent literature highlights the significant advancements in bioremediation techniques, particularly focusing on the use of engineered synthetic microbial communities (SynComs) to tackle complex environmental pollutants. Traditional bioremediation methods, while effective, often fall short when dealing with recalcitrant pollutants such as heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, and various agrochemicals (Gupta and Prakash, 2020; Bala et al., 2022). The integration of synthetic biology and genetic engineering has led to the development of microbial scavengers with enhanced biodegradation capabilities, offering a more efficient and eco-friendly solution (Pant et al., 2020; Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Tran et al., 2021). These engineered microbes can degrade a wide range of pollutants, including fastidious pollutants, greenhouse gases, and microplastics, thereby significantly improving the bioremediation process (Tran et al., 2021; Pandey et al., 2021; Wu et al., 2021).


The implications of these advancements are profound for environmental science and technology. The use of genetically engineered microbes (GEMs) and synthetic microbial communities can potentially revolutionize the field of bioremediation by providing more effective and sustainable solutions for pollution control (Pant et al., 2020; Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Wu et al., 2021). These technologies not only enhance the degradation of pollutants but also minimize the environmental impact, making them a viable alternative to traditional physical and chemical remediation methods (Gupta and Prakash, 2020; Singal and Kaur, 2023). Furthermore, the application of metabolic engineering and CRISPR-Cas systems in creating multifunctional genetic engineering microorganisms (MFGEMs) opens new avenues for addressing complex pollution scenarios, such as soils co-contaminated with heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Wu et al., 2021).


Despite the promising advancements, there are several limitations and gaps in the current research. One major challenge is the ecological risk associated with the release of genetically engineered microbes into the environment. The potential for horizontal gene transfer and the impact on native microbial communities need to be thoroughly assessed (Wu et al., 2021). Additionally, the scalability of these bioremediation techniques remains a significant hurdle. While laboratory and pilot-scale studies have shown success, large-scale implementation requires further research and development (Singal and Kaur, 2023). There is also a need for more comprehensive studies on the long-term effects and sustainability of using engineered SynComs in various environmental settings (Pandey et al., 2021; Singal and Kaur, 2023).


The future of bioremediation lies in the continued innovation and integration of synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and environmental science. The development of more robust and versatile microbial communities capable of degrading a wide range of pollutants will be crucial in addressing the growing environmental challenges (Pant et al., 2020; Tran et al., 2021). The use of advanced biotechnological tools, such as CRISPR-Cas systems and metabolic engineering, will further enhance the efficiency and specificity of bioremediation processes (Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Wu et al., 2021). However, it is essential to balance these technological advancements with rigorous ecological risk assessments and regulatory frameworks to ensure the safe and sustainable application of these methods (Wu et al., 2021).


Continued innovation and research in the field of bioremediation are vital for developing effective solutions to combat environmental pollution. The exploration of new microbial strains, the optimization of genetic engineering techniques, and the development of novel bioreactor designs will play a key role in advancing this field (Sharma and Shukla, 2020; Pandey et al., 2021). Collaborative efforts between scientists, policymakers, and industry stakeholders are necessary to translate these research findings into practical applications that can be implemented on a global scale (Singal and Kaur, 2023). By fostering a multidisciplinary approach and investing in cutting-edge research, we can pave the way for a cleaner and more sustainable environment.



The author thanks the two anonymous peer reviewers for their comments and suggestions on the manuscript.


Conflict of Interest Disclosure

The authors affirm that this research was conducted without any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.



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Genomics and Applied Biology
• Volume 15
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