Seafood, particularly raw fish, is sometimes avoided due to concerns on its mercury content. The toxic form of mercury, methyl mercury, can damage the nervous system (neurotoxin) as it is accumulated in the human body. Mercury contamination in food is fatal due to the fact that the compound is not visible, yet its presence is not readily detectable.
Mercury contamination mostly comes in the form of industrial waste, which often flows into the river if not managed properly. Such waste then enters the ocean and can potentially be consumed by sea animals, such as fish, shrimp, and shellfish. Upon consumption of such contaminated seafood, mercury may accumulate in the human body.
Many methods have been developed to reduce the above problem, including bioremediation, an approach in cleaning up pollutants from the environment using living beings. In particular, microbes play a role in modifying toxic pollutants into their less toxic form. Therefore, this method could contribute in treating mercury waste in river of industrial area.
Pseudomonas putida strain KTTS is a bacterium that possess the ability to transform mercury into its less toxic form. This bacterium breaks down methyl mercury and reduces Hg2+ into Hg0, which is safer for human. This ability due to the presence of a group of genes that work simultaneously, known as the mer operon.
Bacteria that carry active mer operon may be introduced to contaminated rivers with additional controlled conditions that are suitable for the microbes. The reduction of mercury contamination in rivers surrounding the industrial areal may also reduce the amount of mercury that goes into the ocean.
As a developing country, Indonesia is actively building the industrial sector in order to increase its economic growth. In consequence, heavy metal waste, including mercury, is produced significantly, such as from paper and electrical tool manufacturing.
Bioremediation is needed to solve this problem. In comparison to other techniques, bioremediation is beneficial because it is considered as safe, natural, and economical friendly. This technique could be done directly in the site (in situ) and produces less toxic compound for surrounding.
Despite its benefit, bioremediation has not been well developed in Indonesia, possibly due to the lack of knowledge about this method.
It is pertinent to spark up such knowledge, in addition to environmental awareness, among the youth of Indonesia. Let’s share our knowledge and spread the words on environmental issues and their potential solutions for a better future.
This article is written by Evelyn, Erica Kosani, Stevany Tiurma Br Sormin, and Monica as their final project for the Environmental Pollution Control and Bioremediation course. They are undergraduate students at the Biology Program, Faculty of Biotechnology, Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia.