Bioremediation and tolerance of humans to heavy metals through microbial processes: a potential role for probiotics?

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Sep;78(18):6397-404. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01665-12. Epub 2012 Jul 13.


The food and water we consume are often contaminated with a range of chemicals and heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, and mercury, that are associated with numerous diseases. Although heavy-metal exposure and contamination are not a recent phenomenon, the concentration of metals and the exposure to populations remain major issues despite efforts at remediation. The ability to prevent and manage this problem is still a subject of much debate, with many technologies ineffective and others too expensive for practical large-scale use, especially for developing nations where major pollution occurs. This has led researchers to seek alternative solutions for decontaminating environmental sites and humans themselves. A number of environmental microorganisms have long been known for their ability to bind metals, but less well appreciated are human gastrointestinal bacteria. Species such as Lactobacillus, present in the human mouth, gut, and vagina and in fermented foods, have the ability to bind and detoxify some of these substances. This review examines the current understanding of detoxication mechanisms of lactobacilli and how, in the future, humans and animals might benefit from these organisms in remediating environmental contamination of food.

MeSH terms

  • Biotransformation*
  • Food Contamination*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Lactobacillus / metabolism*
  • Metals, Heavy / metabolism*
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • Probiotics*


  • Metals, Heavy