The problem of air pollution is often highly underestimated. Recent studies of both the World Health Organisation and UNICEF show the adverse effects on the human health. According to these studies, air pollution causes the death of 6.5 million people, amongst which 600,000 children under the age of 5.The biggest contributors to air pollution are the industry, traffic, indoor cooking fuels and chemical solvents. They cause a high level of air pollution, in- and outdoors, with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as one of the pollutants.
Air pollution does not only affect human health. It was already noticed that the plant's phyllosphere microbiome changes under the influence of air pollution. Especially an enrichment of bacteria capable of metabolizing air pollution was noted.
In this study, we want to isolate and characterize these air pollution metabolizing bacteria for the phyllosphere, by incubating them in the presence of VOCs. The genome of interesting isolates will be fully sequenced and functionally annotated. Special attention will go to the identification of VOC bioremediating genes. In the last phase of this research project, the bioremediating capacity of the isolates will be tested in an experimental setting. A young plant will be sprayed with the bioremediating bacteria, and placed in a plant chamber under controlled atmosphere. In this atmosphere, VOCs will be present. The concentration of these VOC will be followed over time, for one week.
With this setup, we want to study the bioremediation capacity of the newly isolated species in a realistic experimental setting. Bacterial species capable of successfully breaking down air pollutants, can help to clean the in- and outdoor air by simply applying them to vegetation outdoors or indoors chamber plants. The applied bacteria can clean the air from their natural environment, the phyllosphere, in a sustainable way.