Bioremediation has the potential to restore contaminated environments inexpensively yet effectively, but a lack of information about the factors controlling the growth and metabolism of microorganisms in polluted environments often limits its implementation. However, rapid advances in the understanding of bioremediation are on the horizon. Researchers now have the ability to culture microorganisms that are important in bioremediation and can evaluate their physiology using a combination of genome-enabled experimental and modelling techniques. In addition, new environmental genomic techniques offer the possibility for similar studies on as-yet-uncultured organisms. Combining models that can predict the activity of microorganisms that are involved in bioremediation with existing geochemical and hydrological models should transform bioremediation from a largely empirical practice into a science.