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Cleaning Uranium Contamination with Bacteria

Bacteria may be a key in containing radioactive contamination and other environmental pollutants. A naturally occurring bacteria found in soil called Geobacter has been known to be useful in contaminated soil cleanup, but the process by which it prevents the spread of pollutants has not been known until the work of Gemma Reguera and her team of researchers at Michigan State University identified how the the bacteria concentrates contaminants.

The bacteria have nanowire structures called pili, which are like fine hair on the exterior of the bacterial cells. In a toxic waste site contaminated with uranium, these nanowires essentially become electroplated by the uranium. This process contains it and renders it insoluble, so that it cannot be dissolved and taken up by groundwater.

“This tiny microorganism can play a major role in cleaning up polluted sites around the world,” Reguera says. “Uranium contamination can occur at any step in the cycle of production of nuclear fuel – from mining, processing and enrichment to accidental spills from the nuclear plant. Contamination can spread fast and stay in the environment for many, many years. However, you can stimulate the natural Geobacter community of the soil and groundwater, or feed the improved strains in the environment. The bacteria will oxidize and precipitate the uranium.”

The pili also serve to protect the bacteria from the uranium, which is toxic, by keeping it outside the cell. The researchers are now working to develop strains of Geobacter with increased pili production to make it more effective for this type of remediation work.

via: MSU News

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Is this process safe for the bacteria?, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by mr.bryce, September 18, 2011
pollution enablers
not removal of uranium, onl
written by nerkn, September 18, 2011
At first glance I thought removal of and collecting uranium from site. But in fact it is only oxidizing, capturing uranium in a molecule. I think this is a forward process that lead us getting rid of the radioactive spread but not a removal, so area is still contains radioactivity.

I support old methods, like protesting planned nuclear plant in TR or nuclear weapons.
written by Peter, September 19, 2011
I've gotta get me a scientist.
written by Isaac5, September 19, 2011
"...because I didn't brush my teeth today there are approximately 100 billion living organisms in my mouth right now. The question becomes: do all those organisms have value, and if the do then do I have responsibility to not kill all of them? The answer is no, they don't have value and I don't care if they live or die because my breath is stinky. Neither do you(at least I hope) because you also kill billions of them every day."-Hank Green
A point Hank Neglected to make is that humans can not live without killing organisms. We can certainly obtain food without killing(however disgusting and difficult that would be), but at least as long as we are living on earth our immune systems are constantly killing other organisms. You, however, are shrugging that off, and acting like you care about it.

I don't care if the bacteria die, I just don't want them to be mutated into a super-disease that will kill humans. Remember how radiation from Venus made zombies in Night of the Living Dead?
written by MrFoster, September 20, 2011
Land remediation opens up the potential of land which once couldn't be used, saving green belt land = steps like this mean that we can protect areas.

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