From a biotechnological point of view, bacteria can be seen as either pathogens to target with new drugs or as biocatalysts for large-scale processes in industry, agriculture or the environment. The last includes the exploitation of bacterial activities for bioremediation of toxic waste either in situ or ex situ. The onset of genetic engineering in the late 70s opened the possibility of tailoring recombinant bacteria for environmental release, aimed at biodegradation of otherwise recalcitrant chemicals. However, a few decades later the outcome of this prospect has been quite meager. The literature counts very few cases where the use of genetically engineered bacteria has been proven to be more efficient than natural microorganisms in elimination of recalcitrant compounds under natural (not laboratory) conditions. Fortunately, the emergence of Systems and Synthetic Biology in the last few years is helping to identify what were the caveats of the former approaches and how to correct them. In addition, robust design concepts imported from process engineering provides fresh approaches to the challenge of designing microorganisms á la carte for environmental applications.
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