Using Bacteria To Render Radioactive Materials Inert

Biochemistry professor Judy Walls of the University of Missouri is working on ways to use sulfate-reducing bacteria to render radioactive metals harmless. This, she hopes, would provide a cheaper alternative to conventional cleanup:

The bacteria Wall is studying are bio-corrosives and can change the solubility of heavy metals. They can take uranium and convert it to uraninite, a nearly insoluble substance that will sink to the bottom of a lake or stream. Wall is looking into the bacteria's water cleansing ability and how long the changed material would remain inert.

Wall's research could also be beneficial to heavy metal pollution from storage tanks and industrial waste. The bacteria are already present in more than 7,000 heavy metal contaminated sites, but they live in a specific range of oxygen and temperature, making them difficult to control.


Link via Popular Science

(Image: Science Daily)

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"seefish3
September 11th, 2009 at 3:58 am

Please refer to the novel Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters in which scientists create a bacteria to bio-degrade plastics. It works wonderfully on disposables until it mutates and starts to break down ALL plastics.

Im surprised this isnt a movie yet, but tailoring biological components to alter the properties of matter scares the crap out of me"

More like you're allowing yourself to be scared.

I have an exercise for you.

Find me a species, mutated by radiation, that subsequently became dangerous to human beings. Anything at all. I don't care what kingdom, genus, family, what-have-you; anything from a virus to an animal. Harmless before, was mutated, now dangerous. Should be easy, with such a broad mandate - there has to be at least one example, right?

Nope. While there are plenty of deadly lifeforms on this planet, mutation via exposure to radiation does not make them deadlier. Conversely, overuse of antibiotics (to give one example) has made bacteria deadlier, or at least harder to cure.

"Mutation" is one of those idiot words - it has a very specific meaning in biology, one that has no resemblance to the way non-biologists habitually use it. Most mutations are detrimental to the organisms survival. The only circumstances under which this is not the case is where the mutation occurs in conjunction with selection pressure that favours the mutant. Bacteria, even parasitic ones, do not benefit from being deadly - lethality is not a survival trait for pathogens.

You've been getting your biology from entertainment. Hollywood, and the like, are rarely accurate.
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Hmm... I wonder what concentrations this bacteria get work at. Might be an interesting way to extract uranium from seawater (naturally present at a few ppb). This would make nuclear reactor fuel much more abundant.
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Please refer to the novel "Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters" in which scientists create a bacteria to bio-degrade plastics. It works wonderfully on disposables until it mutates and starts to break down ALL plastics.

I'm surprised this isn't a movie yet, but tailoring biological components to alter the properties of matter scares the crap out of me...
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