Unit 16

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Biotechnology and the environment

Environmental biotechnology can be considered to cover the application of biotechnological processes for the protection and restoration of the quality of the environment. This is an enormous subject area that is much too wide to be considered fully in this unit. Therefore the chosen approach is to focus on three aspects only, detection, prevention and remediation; different but relevant topics have been chosen to illustrate each aspect.

Some idea of the breadth of environmental biotechnology is conveyed by addressing a range of selected topics including effects of air pollution on human health, gene technology in plants, oil pollution, monitoring, risk assessment, bioremediation and economics.

Different teaching approaches have been chosen as appropriate to the topic. Use is made of the theory behind the science and technology, practical laboratory work, field work, case studies and student discussions of the issues involved. The ways in which the various aspects and topics relate to the environment are underpinned by including a consideration of the C, N and S cycles with the added intention of providing a different approach to the difficult problem of teaching the concept of cycles.


Development team, copyright
Guidelines for the teacher

A. Detection of environmental damage

  • London smogs
  • Sulphur in the environment; the S cycle
  • Activity 1: Measuring air pollution
  • Lichen identification key

B. Prevention of environmental damage

  • Nitrogen in the environment; the N cycle
  • Activity 2: A bacterium that fixes nitrogen: Azotobacter
  • Activity 3: Nitrogen fixation in root nodules: isolation of Rhizobium
  • The molecular basis of nitrogen fixation

C. Remediation of environmental damage

  • Carbon in the environment; the C cycle
  • Oil pollution of land
  • Oil pollution of seas and oceans
  • Bioremediation
  • Case study: The Exxon-Valdez incident