According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), there are more than 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of land in England and Wales which are currently in need of rehabilitation following contamination by industry. In the past, remediation has involved the expensive process of burying contaminated soil. Bioremediation, however, which uses microbes to break down contamination, is described by the DTI as a way of “healing the land and associated waters”, and is far more cost-effective than traditional methods.

The new Bioremediation Link Programme, launched on 5 April, is a partnership between government departments such as the DTI and the Environment Agency, and industry, including many small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with the Government providing half of the funding. The programme will provide grants to companies and universities for projects involving bioremediation and its integration with other engineering, chemical and physical methods of land treatment, with an emphasis on in situ and natural remediation.

“This programme will help undo damage to land and water caused by industry and help reclaim brownfield sites,” said Science Minister Lord Sainsbury at the launch. “The £7.5 million Government support announced today should also increase the competitiveness of UK biotech companies and help to secure them world leading positions in an industry which is predicted to be worth $1500 billion (£1051 billion) by 2010.”

Research areas will include the development of monitoring processes; an understanding of the constraints on microbial processes; and an understanding of human health impacts of bioremediation, and will also address socio-economic issues, such as the public perception of bioremediation.

“The UK biotechnology science base is strong, with several world-leading centres of excellence,” said Sainsbury. “By working with Government support it can be at the forefront of this rapidly expanding global market.”

Bioremediation is closely related to the method of phytoremediation, which involves the use of plants to clear up contamination (see related feature).

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