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Key Difference – Biodegradation vs Bioremediation

A large number of bacterial and fungal species possess the capability of degrading organic pollutants in the environment. Biodegradation is a microorganism-mediated decomposition of organic matter. Bioremediation is a technique applied by people to clean up organic matter and other substances by using microbes with the biodegradation process. The key difference between biodegradation and bioremediation is that biodegradation is a natural process that occurs in the environment while bioremediation is an engineered technique applied by humans to clean the environment. Both processes are governed mainly by the microorganisms.

1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Biodegradation
3. What is Bioremediation
4. Side by Side Comparison – Biodegradation vs Bioremediation
5. Summary

What is Biodegradation?

Microorganisms play a key role in the decomposition of organic materials accumulated in the environment. They are the recyclers of nutrients in the soil. Almost all biogeochemical cycles are driven by indigenous microbial population in the soil. Biodegradation is the process in which organic compounds are degraded or broken down by the microorganisms. It is an important process which replenishes the environment with nutrients. Microorganisms degrade organic material for their growth and metabolism. As a result, complex organic substances are converted into carbon dioxide and water.

There are two modes of biodegradation: aerobic biodegradation and anaerobic biodegradation. Aerobic biodegradation is done by aerobic microorganisms when the adequate supply of oxygen is available for their activity. Aerobic biodegradation is a rapid method which degrades the contaminants completely when compared to anaerobic biodegradation. Anaerobic biodegradation takes place in the absence of oxygen. Its pathway has four major steps: hydrolysis, acidogenesis, acetogenesis and methanogenesis. Organic substances are subjected to anaerobic digestion and converted into carbon dioxide and methane.

Difference Between Biodegradation and Bioremediation

Figure 01: Biodegradation of oil spills

What is Bioremediation?

Bioremediation is the process which uses either microorganisms or plants to clean polluted environments. Naturally occurring or introduced organisms, especially microorganisms, which break down environmental pollutants can be used in bioremediation. The main objective of the bioremediation is to convert hazardous substances into non toxic or less toxic substances using biological agents. Bioremediation technology can be divided into two main categories as in situ bioremediation and ex situ bioremediation. Contaminants are broken down at the site of the originated in in situ bioremediation. Some contaminants are treated out of the contamination site. This kind of bioremediation is known as ex situ bioremediation.

Bioremediation is a biotechnological approach for controlling environmental pollution. The natural biodegradable ability of biological agents such as bacteria, fungi, plants is explored in bioremediation. Bioremediation involves manipulation of the environmental parameters such as pH, temperature, moisture content, etc. to obtain optimal growth of microorganisms and achieves a higher rate of degradation. Some examples of this technology are phytoremediation, bioventing, bioleaching, landfarming, bioreactor, composting, bioaugmentation, and biostimulation, etc.

Key Difference - Biodegradation vs Bioremediation

Figure 02: Phytoremediation

What is the difference between Biodegradation and Bioremediation?

Biodegradation vs Bioremediation

Biodegradation is the process of decomposing organic materials in the environment by microorganisms Bioremediation is a waste management technique which uses biological agents to clean the contaminants in the environment
Nature of the Process
It’s a natural process that happens without human intervention. It’s an engineered process that happens with human intervention.
This is a slow process. This is a faster process
Biodegradation is controlled by nature. Bioremediation is a controlled process
Biodegradation is both beneficial and harmful. Bioremediation always has beneficial effects.
Time and Location
Biodegradation happens everywhere in the environment Bioremediation happens at the contaminated site.
Need for Expertise
There is no need for experts.  Experts are required to design and implement this process.

Summary – Biodegradation vs Bioremediation

Biodegradation is the ability of microorganisms to decompose organic materials in the environment. Bacteria and fungi are well-known decomposers in the soil which help to recycle elements in the environment. The majority of the pollutants are degraded completely by aerobic biodegradation in the presence of oxygen. Anaerobic biodegradation is done under oxygen-absent environments. Bioremediation is a biotechnological approach which uses biological agents to clean contaminants in the environment. In bioremediation, organisms are introduced to the contaminated site or enhanced the natural microorganisms by providing suitable growth requirements. Bioremediation uses the biodegrading ability of microorganisms to speed up the environment cleaning process. This is the difference between

1.”Biodegradation and Bioremediation.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2017
2.”Microbial Bioremediation: A Potential Tool for Restoration of Contaminated Areas.” Microbial Bioremediation: A Potential Tool for Restoration of Contaminated Areas – Microbial Biodegradation and Bioremediation – 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2017

Image Courtesy:
1. “Biodegradation of Pollutants” By Timmer26 – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Phytoremediation Process – svg” By Townie (Arulnangai & Xavier Dengra from the original in .png extension) – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia