Bacteria from the deep can clean up heavy metals

June 5, 2009

A species of bacteria, isolated from sediments deep under the Pacific Ocean, could provide a powerful clean-up tool for heavy metal pollution.

Writing in the current issue of the journal, Microbiology, Professor Gejiao Wang and his colleagues from Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan, PR China describe how a particular strain of Brachybacterium, strain Mn32, proved to be highly effective in removing manganese from solutions, converting it into insoluble manganese oxides.

Not only did the directly oxidize the manganese but the resulting oxides themselves also absorbed the metal from the culture solution, making Brachybacterium sp Mn32 a potentially useful candidate for use in bioremediation and cleaning up pollution.

As well as removing manganese from its environment, the Brachybacterium also absorbed significant amounts of zinc and nickel. All of these metals are found as pollutants in water and soils contaminated by heavy industries such as steel-making.

Manganese oxides can be manufactured chemically and are known to absorb zinc and nickel; but the oxides produced by this bacterium absorbed two- to three- times more metal. Professor Wang's team showed that the crystal structure of the bacterial manganese oxides is different to that of the chemically produced ones, with a greater surface area which enables more of the metal ions to be absorbed.

Describing the work, Professor Wang said, "The next stage of our research is to immobilize this bacterial strain into a bioreactor to test its ability to remove manganese and other heavy metals in such a system. If successful it could provide a more efficient way to clean up heavy metal pollutants."

Source: Society for General Microbiology

Explore further: Dissolved manganese may pose risk

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not rated yet Jun 05, 2009
Could these bacteria (or another close relative) be used to neutralize radioactive waste? Maybe this could be our short term solution to this problem until we find a viable way of making a fusion reactor.
not rated yet Jun 05, 2009
Making radioactive waste non-radioactive seems like a tall order coming from a chemistry perspective. That would be the holy grail in radioactive waste management.
not rated yet Jun 05, 2009
^Is that even possible considering chemistry deals with electrons which are not part of the nucleus of an atom where nuclear reactions take place?
not rated yet Jun 05, 2009
No, using bacteria to 'clean' radioactive waste would result in radioactive bacteria.
Radioactivity is unaffected by chemically or biologically active agents.

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