Microbiology research will help neutralize the smell of landfills

17 December 2018

Scientists at the TSU Biological Institute have launched a research project aimed at creating effective ways to dispose of household and industrial waste. Landfill gases poison lives in the literal and figurative sense. In the summer of 2018, there were reported cases of mass poisoning of people as a result of hydrogen sulfide emissions in urban landfills. The task of microbiologists is to find out exactly which bacteria secrete hydrogen sulfide and find ways to neutralize them.

- The topic of household waste disposal is becoming more acute and is now being offered research funds, -says Olga Karnachuk, project leader, head of the Department of Plant Physiology and Biotechnology at TSU. - Every year in Russia millions of tons of garbage are generated. Spoiled products and waste from pig farms and poultry farms during decomposition form hydrogen sulfide, one of the main components of the unpleasant odor associated with landfills. It is produced by sulfate-reducing bacteria that use sulfate for nutrition.

Current evidence suggests that hydrogen sulfide is an important signaling molecule in both animals and humans. In small quantities, it can be useful, but in large quantities it is poisonous and in some cases leads to death.

There are several hundred types of sulfate-reducing bacteria belonging to different evolutionary groups, but no one has yet studied which of them live in landfills. The microbiologists will find out, using molecular genetic analysis. At the initial stage of research, scientists will take samples and isolate the DNA of microorganisms, which will help identify them. In this case, the microbiologists will be assisted by employees of the Federal Research Center Fundamentals of Biotechnology, who are recognized experts in DNA sequencing.

Having identified on a genetic trail the species of sulphate-reducing bacteria that live in the Tomsk site for solid waste landfill, scientists will be engaged in isolating these microorganisms from samples. The study of the characteristics of bacteria will help develop technology to control them. The microbiologists, along with scientists from the Laboratory of Physicochemical Methods of Analysis, will select inhibitors that will restrain the growth of bacteria that produce hydrogen sulfide.