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The Environment is in peril nowadays. At the very advent of technology, pollution has indeed taken its toll on us making us harvest and manufacture products that would take eons to decay and rot at the very least. Everywhere we look, we could see a plethora of biodegradable and non biodegradable waste. And, indeed it’s high time that we revert back to natural processes that could help solve the burgeoning problem of waste disposal since all the artificial methods that requires today’s technology could contribute to the pollution that we are experiencing now. One such natural process that could solve the problem, or in a way even just alleviate such waste pile-up, is biodegradation. BIODEGRADATION This refers to the process of converting or breaking down natural substances through the action and aid of enzymes secreted by organisms such as microbes and fungi. The materials that could undergo biodegradation are limited. They should either be natural or they have natural polymers as backbone so as to provide a place of target for enzymes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodegradation). Biodegradation works in such a manner that the organisms involve utilizes, or more appropriately metabolizes, these wastes as sources of nutrients. They treat these wastes as providers of their carbon or nitrogen source, very basic requisites for their survival. (microbiology, ). In many cases, conditions are not favorable enough to promote spontaneous biodegradation or natural attenuation. There is a further need to add nutrients or suitable organisms for biodegradation to occur, due to their insufficient quantity. The future trend would be to discern first the speed of unaided biodegradation, before adding any supplements, and then act only if there is insufficient activity which is fast enough to remove the contaminant before causing any expected risks. POLLUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES A Filipino generates around 0.3 to 0.7 kilograms of garbage daily depending on income levels, according to a study1 by the World Bank. Metro Manila produces about 8,000 tons of solid waste each day and is expected to reach 13,300 tons in 2014 (Baroña, 2004). The National Capital Region produces the highest amount of wastes, about 23% of the country’s waste generation (www.asria.org). According to a discards survey conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace Southeast Asia in 2006, synthetic plastics comprise the 76% of the floating trash in Manila Bay, out of which 51% are plastic bags, 19% are sachets and junk food wrappers, 5% are styrofoams and 1% of hard plastics. The rest were rubber 10% and biodegradable discards 13% (EcoWaste Coalition, 2008). For this study, the potential degradation of three pollutants that has been a topic of investigations lately and for the last decades as well. These pollutants are chicken feather, natural rubber and polystyrene. Chicken Feather Chicken feathers comprise _ % of our waste. In the US alone, 2 billion pounds of chicken feathers are produced by the poultry industry. (http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/kids/animals/story1/story1.htm). Chicken feathers, by nature, are made up of over 90% protein (Cheng-cheng et al., 2007). And this protein is none other than keratin. It’s actually the most abundant protein. It is not easily degraded due to its tightly packed structural arrangement which is in the form of alpha keratin or beta keratin. The key to its stability lies on the cross-linking by disulfide bonds, hydrophobic interactions, and hydrogen bonds. Such stability renders keratin water- insolube and non-degradable by the enzymes papain, trypsin and pepsin. (Gradisar et al., 2005). In a study conducted by Onifade et al., 1998 and Gousterova et al., 2005, as cited in the journal of Cheng-Cheng et al., 2007, the build-up of chicken feathers in the environment and landfills would only result to future pollution problems and protein wastage. More so, its accumulation could serve as a breeding ground for a variety of harmful pathogens (Chandra, 2002). Considering that chicken feathers have a high protein content it could also be used as an animal feed, but first its protein must be degraded (Tapia and Contiero, 2008). Yet this is said to need so much water and energy (Frazer, 2004). Old methods of degrading the chicken feathers such as alkali hydrolysis and steam pressure cooking are no longer advisable. They cause so much energy wastage and they unfortunately destroy the configuration of proteins. (Cheng-cheng et al., 2007). Incineration is also a method used in degrading such waste but it causes so much energy loss and carbon dioxide build-up in the environment. Other methods of disposal are landfilling, burning, natural gas production and treatment for animal feed. But subjecting it to burning and land filing costs a lot and it contributes air, soil and water contamination. (Joshi et al., 2007). A wiser suggestion or approach would be the use of microbes in degrading these chicken feathers. (Cheng-cheng et al., 2007). Such approach is said to an economical and environment-friendly alternative (Joshi et al., 2007). Experiments that tested on the degradation of chicken have already been done. In fact, studies have already proven that keratinolytic microbes such as Bacillus (Maczinger et al., 2003; Rodziewicz and Wojciech, 2007; Joshi et al.,2007) , fungi ( Gradisar et al., 2005) and actinomycetes (Gousterova et al., 2005). The enzymes that perform keratin degradation are called keratinase, which could degrade feathers and make it available for its use as animal feed, fertilizer and natural gas. The enzymes are said to degrade the beta-keratin component and the main idea behind such biodegradation is that the microbes use the feather as their carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and energy for their nourishment. (Joshi et al.,2007 ; Manczinger et al., 2003). Keratinases isolated from microbes have various economic uses. Aside from its feather degrading capacity, it could be used in the leather industry as an agent in dehairing leather. Its by-product, the feather hydrolysate, could also be used as animal feed additive. (Joshi et al., 2007). Furthermore, potentially, the said hydolysate could be used in the generation of organic fertilizer, edible films and amino acids which are considered rare, as cited by Brandelli in the journal of Joshi et al., 2007. In terms of experimental procedures, various methods are used in determining the keratinolytic ability, which means it could produce keratinase and hence degrade chicken feather, of microbes. A particular study by Tapia and Contiero 2008, used a feather meal agar, wherein the feather served as the source of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and energy, in cultivating the isolated microbe Streptomyces. The growth, which occurred on the 10th day of incubation, through colony formation of the microbe indicated that it utilized the feather as a source of its nutrients. After which, its keratinolytic activity was tested using a modified keratin azure protocol. Another study by Maczinger et al. 2003 focused on the isolation of a microbe from the poultry waste that could degrade feathers. During the preliminary elimination, they cultured the different population of bacteria found in a partially degraded feather in a basal medium with sterilized feathers serving as its source of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur. It was then rotated in an orbital shaker for 10 days. After 4 days, one flask which showed a visual degradation of the feather. A dilution series was made afterwards so as to isolate and culture the bacteria that just degraded the feather. The strain was identified as Bacillus lichenformis strain K-508. And the confirmation of the keratinolytic activity was done by using the azokeratin as a substrate assay. Isolation of a new microbial organism that could degrade chicken feather will help in the degradation of the chicken feathers which is now becoming a burden in the society both internationally and locally. The microbe could potentially provide the keratinase that could be used in compost technology (Maczinger et al., 2003) or in the conversion of feather to feedstock meal additives (Tapia and Contiero, 2008). Polystyrene Polystyrene, an aromatic polymer, is synthesized from the aromatic monomer styrene which comes from petroleum products. It is a thermoplastic substance that could be solid in room temperature or liquid when melted. One of the most common forms and uses of polystyrene is the EPS which stands for Expanded Polystyrene. The industry manufactures such product by mixing polystyrene with blowing agents in the form of carbon dioxide and pentane which comprises 5%-10% of its composition. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polystyrene). The EPS is also called foamed polystyrene and it is said to be 30 times lighter than regular polystyrene. This substance is popularly used in the form of beverage cups and insulating materials. (http://www.wq.uiuc.edu/Pubs/Styrofoam-2-15-05.pdf). The basic unit of polystyrene which is styrene, which is a known neurotoxin and animal carcinogen, is considered very harmful to human health. In fact, it inflicts neurological and hematological disorder especially to factory workers. EPS food packaging is the one accountable for the leaking out of styrene. Styrene leak or leech is triggered when acids from our juices when placed in such EPS cups and when food with Vitamin A content is placed inside a microwave leading the styrene to accumulate in our system. (http://www.cawrecycles.org/issues/eps_health). Polystyrene is in high demand. It is the most used and utilized thermoplastic in the industry due to its durability. But it is not biodegradable. (Mor and Sivan, 2008). According to the Californians Against Waste (CAW), it is very difficult to recycle due to its light weight property, which accounts for why it’s expensive to recycle. Imagine just recycling a ton of polystyrene, needs a budget of $3000. Hence, it has a negative scrap- value. More so, it’s due to this light weight property that they find polystyrene hard to transport since polystyrene is advised to be always kept food-free and uncontaminated when recycled. The build-up of polystyrene in landfills, as reported by CAW, will contribute to plastic marine debris, since even when it is disposed of properly it is carried by natural agents such as wind or other forces to the ocean. As manifested, there is an excess of it in the environment and it is a major pollutant. (Mor and Sivan, 2008). For almost three decades ago, polystyrene was first ban due to the utilization CFC material for its generation. In fact there was a hype heralding that it is recyclable. After some time the companies that invested for its recycling process disappeared. This move confirms that, indeed, recycling polystyrene is not an easy thing to do. Now, the problem is back and the attention of scientists is focused on the recycling of disposable foamed polystyrene. But recycling it would cost much in terms of energy, waste and management point of view. (http://www.cawrecycles.org/issues/epsban_summary). A way of solving such impending problem, is through biodegradation (Mor and Sivan, 2008; Singh and Sharma, 2007). Biodegradation has been manifested in a number of studies already. And some of the studies will be named here. A study by Mor and Sivan (2008), dealt with the monitoring of biofilm formation of the microbe Rhodococcus sp. strain C208 on polystyrene. Their aim was to observe the kinetics of biofilm formation and of whether polystyrene would be degraded. They used two methods in quantifying the biofilm biomas: modified crystal violet staining and observation of the protein content of the biofilm. The C208 strain was cultured in a flask containing polystyrene flakes with the addition of mineral oil (0.0055% w/v), which induced more biofilm buil-up. The study concluded that after an extension of 8th weeks of incubation, loss of 0.8% (gravimetric weight loss) of polystyrene weight was found. From this, Mor and Sivan (2008) regarded C208 to demonstrate a high affinity towards polystyrene through biofilm formation which lead to it’s degradation. The C208 strain is a biofilm-producing actinomycete that has first colonized and degraded polyethylene (Orr et al., 2004). There were studies that tested the possibility of whether copolymerizing polystyrene with other substance could make it more degradable and susceptible to microbial attack. In 1992, a study by Milstein at el. (1992), focused on the biodegradation of a lignin-polystyrene copolymer. The white rot basidiomycete was used to degrade such lignin-polystyrene complex copolymer. Such fungi released enzyme that oxidized lignin and demonstrated the degradation through weight loss, UV spectrophotometric analysis and deterioration of surface of the plastic substance as seen under the SEM. A similar study by Singh and Sharma (2007) demonstrated through the process of graft copolymerization that polystyrene must be modified with natural polymers and hydrophilic monomers so as to enhance its degrading ability and so as to render polystyrene waste useful in diminishing metal ion pollution in water and. According to the mentioned study, the degrading rate of polystyrene increased to 37% after subjecting it to soil burial method for 160 days. Furthermore, the study of Mota et al. (2007), explored the degradation of oxidized polystyrene using the fungi Curvularia sp. After about nine weeks of incubation, microscopic examination revealed that hyphae had grown on the polystyrene. The colonization of the fungi and it’s adhesion to the surface of the substance, according to Mota et al., is a crucial step towards polymer biodegradation. As demonstrated, colonization is needed in determining whether a particular microbe or organism is a potential biodegrading agent. (Mota et al., 2007) The growth of the microbes on the surface of the polystyrene is a step that would lead to its degradation. Further visual confirmation of deterioration of surface area is done by using the scanning electron microscope. (Mor and Sivan, 2008; Mota et al., 2007 ). XYLARIA SP. The fungal isolate, which will be used in this study was discovered by Cuevas and Manaligods (1997). They found it growing on a sando plastic bag buried in forest soil and litter in the lowland secondary forest of Mt. Makiling, Laguna. The fungus comprised of sterile melanin pigmented mycelia. Initially it was reported as ascomycete sterile dark mycelia (ASDM), but further cultural studies have shown that it belongs to the Class Ascomycete, Order Xylariales, under the genus Xylaria (unpublished data). This genus has the following characteristics (Rogers et al., 2000) : Characteristics of the Xylaria sp. stromatal tissue quantity: distributed above, around, and beneath perithecia stromatal layers: unipartite stromatal surface level: erumpent or superficial stromatal interior: essentially homogeneous stromatal orange granules surrounding perithecia: absent stromatal KOH pigments: absent stromatal conidium-bearing discs: absent stromatal bases: stipitate or, if sessile, conspicuously constricted stromatal aggregation: not forming a crust stromatal shapes: other than wiry coremial pegs or remnants: absent subiculum: absent substrates: associated with dung or associated with insect nests or associated with substrates other than dung or insect nests ascomatal number per stroma: mostly multiperitheciate ascomatal ostioles: present ascomatal configurations: not valsoid ascomatal orientation: mostly oriented horizontally ascal apical rings: present ascus height vs width: usually higher than wide ascospore cell number: one-celled ascospore shapes: other than cuboid ascospore color: colored ascospore ornamentation: smooth ascospore germination site morphology: slit-like perispore dehiscence: indehiscent anamorphs: Geniculosporium-like cultural gross morphology on oatmeal agar: not highly furrowed or distorted places where teleomorph and anamorph are produced: on the same stromata in most species BENEFICIAL USES OF XYLARIA Some Xylaria sp. species exist as endophytes, and have mutualistic associations with plants. The fungus secrete toxins to protect the plant from herbivory from other insects or animals, while the fungus in return feeds on the host’s tissues for nutrition, and its mycelia are scattered through seed dispersal (Davis, et al., 2003). There is a hypothesis that Xylariaceae endophytes are quiescent colonizers that will decompose lignin and cellulose later when the plant dies (adapted from Petrini et al., 1995; Whalley, 1996 as cited by Davis, et al., 2003). Nonetheless there are also some xylariaceous fungi that only exist as endophytes (adapted from Rogers, 2000; J. D. Rogers, Washington State University, personal communication as cited by Davis, et al., 2003). No obvious benefit to living host plants has been documented for Xylariaceae (Davis, et al., 2003). A review (Carroll, 1988 as cited by Davis, et al., 2003) of empirical studies on antagonistic interactions between endophytes and grazers, insects and microbial pathogens summarizes five general properties of endophyte mutualism: (1) the endophyte is ubiquitous in a given host, geographically widespread, and causes minimal disease symptoms in the host plant; (2) vertical transmission or efficient horizontal transmission of the fungus occurs; (3) the fungus grows throughout host tissue, or, if confined to a particular organ, a high proportion of such organs are infected; (4) the fungus produces secondary metabolites likely to be antibiotic or toxic; and (5) the endophyte is taxonomically related to known herbivore or pathogen antagonists. A patented extract from Xylaria nigripes, the WulinshenPrime™ in SleepWell™ can provide important nutrients usually at a low level, to the brain and thus help in its biochemical processes to promote a more restful and deeper sleep to wake up fully revitalized. This extract contains essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, glycoproteins, glutamic acid, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate decarboxylase. It is well established that glutamic acid assists the uptake of GABA to specific brain cell receptors. GABA's main function is to inhibit excitatory neuro-activities to exert a tranquilizing effect on the central nerve system. Glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) is involved in the synthesis of GABA. COLONIZATION OF PLASTIC BY XYLARIA SP. A previous study by Clutario and Cuevas (2001) proved that Xylaria sp. can utilize polyethylene plastic strips as an alternative carbon source, thereby degrading them into usable forms for self-sustenance. Through the use of scanning electron microscopy, the proponents of the said study observed visible damages of the surface structure of the plastic strips. There were tearing and striations caused by active burrowing of Xylaria hyphae on the polyethylene material. Plastic is an extremely versatile synthetic material made of high molecular weight, semi-crystalline polymer prepared from ethylene through the cracking of crude oil, light petroleum and natural gas (Knapczyk and Simon, 1992 as cited by Clutario and Cuevas, 2001). For plastic bags alone, it is estimated that some 430,000 gallons of oil are needed to produce 100 million pieces of these omnipresent consumer items on the planet (EcoWaste Coalition, 2008).
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