Cleaning contaminated soil with fungi

Mycoremediation uses fungi to degrade or convert pollutants into harmless or less harmful compounds, indirectly making the world better.

WITH development and urbanisation, cities become more polluted as industries generate toxic waste that is harmful to human health and the environment. For decades, ineffective waste management has contributed to this ongoing problem.

A study titled “Potential Fungi to Remediate Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Contaminated Soil”, conducted by Assoc Prof Dr Ong Ghim Hock (pic), Tan Jia Wen, Dr Wong Rui Rui and Dr Wong Kok Kee from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at INTI International University, revealed the prevalence of fungi degrading or converting pollutants into harmless compounds which can safeguard the environment.

With his team, Ong discovered that industrial products frequently polluted the environment by releasing hydrocarbons, namely, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

PAHs, also known as chemical components, are durable and difficult to degrade when being released and absorbed into the soil.

“These chemical components contain mutagens and carcinogens that can cause cancer and genetic mutations in people. It is an issue that must be urgently addressed,” Ong said, explaining that these chemical components come from man-made pollutants released into the environment. Man-made pollutants which include consumption, waste disposal, industrial production, transportation and energy generation can threaten human health, the natural ecosystem, and the environment.

To remove these chemicals from the environment, he said, much attention is given to remediating these components for a safer environment.

“According to a reported study, fungi have the highest potential for degrading these PAHs. Ganoderma lucidum and Aspergillus flavus both achieved the highest degradation percentages, nearly completely degrading all PAH pollutants in the soil.

“This makes them both the best potential candidates for degrading PAHs,” he said in a press release on Jan 10.

The study, he said, also noted that an increase in industrial urbanisation has had a significant impact on the environment in Peninsular Malaysia. Sediment in the country would continue to ingest more PAHs which raises the likelihood of these chemicals entering the food chain and harming the ecosystem.

“Therefore, the need for eco-friendly remediation, known as the mycoremediation method, was highlighted to tackle the complex chemical pollutants released into the environment.

“Mycoremediation uses fungi to degrade or convert pollutants into harmless or less harmful compounds, indirectly making the world safer,” said Ong.

The findings also demonstrated that among non-ligninolytic fungi, A. flavus has the highest efficiency as it can degrade more than six types of PAHs, while A. niger, T. asperellum, S. brevicaulis, P. simplicissimum and F. solani achieve moderate degradation percentages towards at least two types of PAHs.

Ong noted that to make the world a safer place for the future generation, we must start by being more conscious of how we dispose waste and attempt to recycle and reuse items.

Society, he said, needs to be more proactive in playing a role to make the world greener.

“Polluting our soils means polluting our future. Released toxins will affect the entire ecosystem but many people still take things for granted. More environmental campaigns for behavioural change are needed,” he said, adding that working with industrial partners and government agencies to raise awareness and market the importance of proper disposal, and remediation of chemical components to avoid further pollution and ecosystem breakdown, are also ways to address this.

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