A specific microbial habitat exists where the atmosphere and plant meet. It is called the phyllosphere and is usually dominated by the leaf surfaces. All plant leaves, worldwide, are estimated to cover a surface area that approximates twice the global land surface. The phyllosphere can therefore be considered as a vast microbial habitat, with great potential importance. Recent advances in microbial DNA sequencing approaches have significantly improved our insights in these microbial ecosystems: a few pioneering studies –including from the applying consortium- have now documented that the phyllosphere harbours diverse bacterial communities shaped by both plant physical characteristics and metabolism, and environmental conditions. In turn, decades of physiological research has yet demonstrated that these epiphytic bacteria can affect the host plant by preventing colonization of certain plant pathogens and encouraging plant growth, among other effects.
Air pollution and its adverse health effects are still increasing worldwide. Particulate matter (PM), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), soot, diesel exhaust particles and heavy metals are among the most problematic air pollutants. Adverse health effects include heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases like asthma, Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Various technological solutions to remove air pollutants have yet been developed, of which catalytic filters and motor adaptations have probably made the largest impact on the filtration of polluted exhaust gases. Also for indoor application, various air purification systems exist, but they are mostly chemical, physical or photocatalytic oxidation. There is a clear need for more sustainable, bio- and nature-based solutions to combat air pollution.
Bioremediation is the use of microorganisms to degrade or transform environmental contaminants into their less toxic forms. In this project, a novel bioremediation approach is explored, i.e. the potential application of plant-associated bacteria of the phyllosphere to degrade or remove specific air pollutants from the ambient air.