The proposed work leverages a recent key discovery, the existence of highly functional contaminated soils, that is, where bacterial communities have adapted to the contaminants. Liberty State Park, a brownfield site in Northern New Jersey, is one example. Understanding the underlying science of enhanced biochemical function within a contaminated site is an essential step in maximizing restoration potential. The goal of this project is to better understand the high enzymatic activity which has developed and apply this knowledge to optimize functional soil treatment and inform engineering solutions in a cost effective, sustainable manner
First, finding the mechanistic basis for the high enzymatic activities will be a novel and exciting contribution to ecological engineering with far reaching implications for the restoration of contaminated sites. Second, the proposed experiments will use a factorial design to determine whether: 1. the abiotic properties of the soil itself, or, 2. the microbial communities of the soils are more important to improved function. Third, this work employs targeted microbial communities originating from contaminated, undisturbed soils, in soil restoration. Measurements of extracellular enzyme activity serve as a proxy for overall soil health and function. The specific objectives of this project are: 1. Elucidate the factors driving enzymatic activity in contaminated soil by studying contaminated soils with unusually high enzyme activity in comparison to less functional, contaminated soils, and, 2. Determine the ability of microbial inocula to improve the functionality of contaminated, low functioning soils, and characterize the time course of functional transformation. Understanding the mechanisms behind the unusually high enzymatic activities will guide efforts to find functional and metal-resistant microbial communities. This will facilitate soil seeding and have direct applications to a highly cost-effective approach in restoration ecology and phytoremediation. The findings of this research and the predictive model will inform practitioners and engineers about successful microbial community compositions and time to functional transformation. The PIs will use the opportunity to extend their mentorship and expertise in training to the Liberty Science Center, situated next to Liberty State Park. As part of this grant, the PIs will work with education colleagues at the Science Center to develop workshops and outreach activities for student visitors.
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