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Solution to Pollution: New Bacteria Eats Toxic Waste

Utah State University researchers recently discovered a new bacteria that is a natural cleanser for contaminated soil. The bacteria, now being used around the world, is an inexpensive and highly effective solution to pollution.

“This project shows mother nature’s capability to be a master engineer,?said Ron Sims, biological and irrigation engineering department head. “Past disposal practices and accidental spills have put these carcinogens in our environment, and nature has figured out a way to cleanse herself. We want to be able to understand it better through genomic analysis.?/p>


Engineers often use other human-made chemicals to clean up contaminated sites, but these microbes will provide a natural solution, said Sims. Bioremediation cleans up the environment by allowing living organisms to degrade or transform hazardous organic contaminants using natural biology. It offers an attractive solution to pollution cleanup because it can occur on-site and at relatively little cost compared to other alternatives, he continued. The team received a $1.5 million dollar contract from the U.S. Department of Energy to further study the bacteria. Sims discovered the microbes on a landsite in Libby, Mont. contaminated by chemical carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s). The site had been used by industry as a place to apply preservatives to wood, yet Sims found the land to be relatively free of toxins and asked the question, why? After conducting soil analysis tests, Sims found microbes in the soil that had destroyed the toxic chemicals.

Sims then collaborated with researchers from the Utah State biology department to identify the microbes. The three Libby-site microbes responsible for the remediation were mycobacterium isolates. The other two mycobacterium isolates capable of degrading PAH’s were found at other locations in the United States by Carl Cerniglia at the Arkansas Toxicology Center. Because few of these mycobacterium iso
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Source:Utah State University


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