Bioremediation of Heavy Metal by Algae: Current and Future Perspective

  • Seema Dwivedi School of Biotechnology, Gautam Buddha University, Gr. Noida, Uttar Pradesh 201312 (India).
Keywords: Heavy metals, Metal pollutants, Microalgae, Wastewater


Instead of using mainly bacteria, it is also possible to use mainly algae to clean wastewater because many of the pollutant sources in wastewater are also food sources for algae. Nitrates and phosphates are common components of plant fertilizers for plants. Like plants, algae need large quantities of nitrates and phosphates to support their fast cell cycles. Certain heavy metals are also important for the normal functioning of algae. These include iron (for photosynthesis), and chromium (for metabolism). Because marine environments are normally scarce in these metals, some marine algae especially have developed efficient mechanisms to gather these heavy metals from the environment and take them up. These natural processes can also be used to remove certain heavy metals from the environment. The use of algae has several advantages over normal bacteria-based bioremediation processes. One major advantage of the removal of pollutants is that this is a process that under light conditions does not need oxygen. Instead, as pollutants are taken up and digested, oxygen is added while carbon dioxide is removed. Hence, phytoremediation could potentially be coupled with carbon sequestration. Additionally, because phytoremediation does not rely on fouling processes, odors are much less a problem. Microalgae, in particular, have been recognized as suitable vectors for detoxification and have emerged as a potential low-cost alternative to physicochemical treatments. Uptake of metals by living microalgae occurs in two steps: one takes place rapidly and is essentially independent of cell metabolism – “adsorption” onto the cell surface. The other one is lengthy and relies on cell metabolism – “absorption” or “intracellular uptake.” Nonviable cells have also been successfully used in metal removal from contaminated sites. Some of the technologies in heavy metal removals, such as High Rate Algal Ponds and Algal Turf Scrubber, have been justified for some practical application in China and abroad and limitations of these methods in large-scale still exist. As an innovative clean-up technology, it mainly depends on the biosorption and bioaccumulation abilities of algae, and the former is dominated in the whole process of bioremediation. Studies suggest that the constituents of algae cell wall such as alginate and fucoidan which have key functional groups are chiefly responsible for biosorption of heavy metal ions.


Download data is not yet available.


[1]. Brouers, M., Dejong, H., Shi, D.J. and Hall, D.O. (1989). Immobilized cells: An appraisal of the methods and applications of cell immobilization techniques. In: Cresswell R.C., TAV Rees & Shah N. Longman (Edu.) Algae & Cyanobacterial biotechnology Scientific & Technical Publishers, New York. pp. 272-290.
[2]. Chen, F., Johns, M.R. (1991). Effect of C/N ratio and aeration on the fatty acid composition of heterotrophic Chlorella sorokiniana. J. Appl. Phycol., 3:203–9.
[3]. Crist, R.H., Martin, J.R., Carr, D., Watson, J.R., Clarke, H.J., Carr, D. (1994). Interaction of metals and protons with algae. 4. Ion exchange vs adsorption models and a reassessment of Scatchard plots; ion-exchange rates and equilibria compared with Calcium alginate. Environ. Sci. Technol., 28(11): 1859- 1866.
[4]. Gosavi, K., Sammut, J., Gifford, S. and Jankowski, J. (2004). Macroalgal biomonitors of trace metal contamination in acid sulfate soil aquaculture ponds. Sci. Total Environ., 324: 25-39.
[5]. Hodaifa, G., Martinez, M.A. and Sanchez, S. (2008). Use of industrial wastewater from olive-oil extraction for biomass production of Scenedesmus obliquus. Bioresource Technology, 99: 1111-1117.
[6]. Horikoshi, T., Nakajima, A., Sakaguchi, T., (1979). Uptake of uranium by Chlorella regularis. Agricultural and Biological Chemistry, 43:617-623.
[7]. Inouhe, M., Sumiyoshi, M., Tohoyama, H. and Joho, M. (1996). Resistance to cadmium ions and formation of a cadmium-binding complex in various wild-type yeasts. Plant Cell Physiol., 37: 341-346.
[8]. Kim, S.B., Lee, S.J., Kim, C.K., Kwon, G.S., Yoon, B.D., Oh, H.M. (1998). Selection of microalgae for advanced treatment of swine wastewater and optimization of treatment condition. Korean Journal of Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 26: 76-82.
[9]. Lin, Ronggen (1998). Preliminary study on the adsorption of copper ion on the spiral algae. Marine Environmental Science, 17(2): 8-11.
[10]. Mallick, N. (2002). Biotechnological potential of immobilized algae for wastewater N, P and metal removal: A review. Biometals, 15: 377–390.
[11]. Millis, P.R., Ramsey, M.H. and John, E.A. (2004). Heterogeneity of cadmium concentration in soil as a source of uncertainty in plant uptake and its implications for human health risk assessment. Sci. Total Environ., 326: 49-53.
[12]. Rainbow, P.S. (1995). Physiology, physicochemistry and metal uptake—A crustacean perspective. Mar. Poll. Bull., 31: 55-59.
[13]. Ross, I.S., (1995). Reduced uptake of nickel by a nickel resistance strain of Candida utilis. Microbios, 83: 261-270.
[14]. Sanders, C.L. (1986). Toxicological aspect of energy production, pp. 169-221. MacMillan Publishing Company, New York.
[15]. Shehata, S.A., Badr, S.A. (1980). Growth response of Scenedesmus to different concentrations of copper, cadmium, nickel, zinc and lead. Environment International, 4:431–434.
[16]. Travieso, L., Benitez, F., Weiland, P., Sanchez, E., Dupeyron, R., Dominguez, A.R. (1996). Experiments on immobilization of microalgae for nutrient removal in wastewater treatments. Bioresource Technol., 55: 181–186.
[17]. Unger, M.E. and Roesijadi, G. (1996). Increase in metallothionein mRNA accumulation during a cadmium challenge in oysters preexposed to cadmium. Aquat. Toxicol., 34: 185-193.
[18]. Volesky, B. (1990). Removal and Recovery of Heavy Metals by Biosorption. Biosorption of Heavy Metals. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, p.7-43.
How to Cite
Dwivedi, S. (2012). Bioremediation of Heavy Metal by Algae: Current and Future Perspective. Journal of Advanced Laboratory Research in Biology, 3(3), 195-199. Retrieved from
Abstract viewed = 308 times, PDF downloaded = 228 times