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Bioremediation potential of the endogenous microbiome informs landscape architecture around the Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn’s hippest toxic waste dump

Monday, September 12, 2016 - 15:00
Elizabeth Hénaff, PhD
UPMC, UMR7238 / LCQB, 9 quai St Bernard, Room A601, 75005 Paris.
Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City

The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is scheduled to undergo dredging and sub-aquatic capping as part of the US Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Cleanup plan beginning in 2017. Historically a productive estuary, the waterfront was claimed by industrial and cultural needs that dramatically altered the habitat and ecological flow. Beginning when Gowanus Creek was dredged into Gowanus Canal in 1869, and perpetuated until 2013 when the record of decision was reached designating the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site, the canal has collected 150 years of industrial byproducts. To this day raw sewage overflows into the system following each rain event, adding to the unique slurry of hydrocarbons and heavy metals mixed with estuarine silt deposits. Driven by a citizen scientists’ curiosity regarding the extant environment which will be effectively destroyed by cleanup efforts, we have sampled the Canal’s sediment for short-read metagenomic analysis over four seasons of the last year. Functional analysis of these data have revealed that these populations encode bioremediation functions related to the historical use of the Canal, including degradation of hydrocarbons and industrial solvents. We discuss ways to exploit this genetic solution to the challenge of contamination and to inform the design of the built environment for rehabilitation of the Canal.

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