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Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperation Program                                                            
Phase 3 (2007 Deadline)

Bioremediation of Chromium and Arsenic from Industrial Wastewater 

Michael J. McInerney and Lee Krumholz, University of Oklahoma
Shahida Hasnain and Muhammad Faisal, University of the Punjab, Lahore
Pakistani Funding (HEC):  $ 268,000
US Funding (USAID):    $ 237,460

Project Dates on US Side: April 1, 2008 - November 30, 2011

Project Overview
The continuous industrial usage of chromium (Cr) and arsenic (As) compounds by different industries has polluted the aquatic and terrestrial environment in Pakistan. Microbial processes in soils and sediments devoid of air could act to increase or decrease health risks associated with these metal depending on which microbial process becomes dominant. In soils and sediments devoid of air, reductive microbial processes will increase the health risk due to arsenic contamination by reducing the less toxic and less mobile form of As (arsenate, AsV) into a more toxic and mobile form of arsenic (arsenite, ArIII). On the other hand, reductive microbial process will decrease the health risk due to chromium contamination by reducing the more toxic and more mobile form of Cr (CrVI) into a less toxic and less mobile form of chromium (CrIII). Thus, it is essential to know what microbes are present in these contaminated soils in order to assess health risk and devise appropriate mitigation strategies. The objectives of the project are as follows:
  • To isolate and characterize chromium and arsenic resistant bacteria from contaminated Pakistani soils and evaluate their potential to
    • Detoxify chromium by converting CrVI to CrIII
    • Detoxify arsenic by converting ArIII to ArV
    • Increase arsenic toxicity by converting ArV to ArIII

      OU-UP Wastewater Bioremediation Project Leather Tanning Site

       Leather Tanning Site

  • To determine how metal contamination, soil chemistry and geography influences the microbial community in order to predict the fate of arsenic and chromium in contaminated soil and water.
  • To train new Pakistani scientists in anaerobic microbiology, molecular ecology, and environmental genomics 
Major Results
  • Isolated and characterized microbes highly resistant to metals that can be used in cleaning up contaminated soils
  • Developed plant cultivars able to grow in soils highly contaminated with metals that can be used for phytoremediation and food production
  • Trained more than one hundred Pakistani students in ecological genomics and anaerobic microbiology via distance learning
  • Hosted two Pakistani PhD students for extended visits to the University of Oklahoma to learn about advanced environmental microbiology techniques
  • Discovered diverse gene sequences involved in arsenic resistance
Quarterly Update
During the final stage of the project in 2011, arsenate oxidase and chromate reductases enzymes are being purified and characterized, and Pakistani scientists are testing these enzymes for their ability to detoxify toxic arsenic and chromium. The OU researchers will be analyzing additional samples from Kasur, Sheikhupura, and Sialkot to quantify the number of 16S rRNA gene copies at each site using quantitative PCR and determine what effect chromium and arsenic exposure have on the functionality of the communities by using GeoChip. The project team also plans to use primers for the arsB gene and the ACR genes to obtain PCR products so that they can examine the differences in arsenic gene communities present in the soil samples. The stoichiometry of electron donor and electron acceptor use by isolates that reduce arsenate and oxidize asenite is expected to be determined; new enrichments will be established; and the diversity present in enrichments that transform sulfur compounds will also be characterized. Supported by university endowment funds provided by the US PI, Mr. Yasir Rehman, a visiting PhD student from University of the Punjab, will be able to extend his visit at OU through the end of October 2011, which will give him a full year of microbial ecology training in Dr. McInerney’s lab. Although funding under this project is scheduled to end as November 30, another Pakistani scholar from University of the Punjab, Ms. Fariha Rizvi, recently received a fellowship from HEC to study in Dr. McInerney’s laboratory for 6 months. At last report she was expected to start her visit in September 2011, pending visa issuance, so the linkages established under this project will continue even after the grant ends.

Progress Report Summaries

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