Engineered bacteria mop up mercury spills

Aug 12, 2011

Thousands of tonnes of toxic mercury are released into the environment every year. Much of this collects in sediment where it is converted into toxic methyl mercury, and enters the food chain ending up in the fish we eat. New research, published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Biotechnology, showcases genetically engineered bacteria which are not only able to withstand high levels of mercury but are also able to mop up mercury from their surroundings.

These mercury-resistant bacteria, developed by researchers from Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Bayamon Campus, contained either the mouse gene for metallothionein or the for polyphosphate kinase. Both strains of bacteria were able to grow in very high concentrations (120µM) of mercury, and when the bacteria containing metallothionein were grown in a solution containing 24 times the dose of mercury which would kill non-resistant bacteria, they were able to remove more than 80% of it from the solution in five days.

Dr Ruiz who led the research said, "The inclusion of heavy metal scavenging molecules in bacteria provides a viable technology for mercury bioremediation. This method not only would allow us to clean up mercury spills from the environment but the high accumulation of mercury within the transgenic bacteria also provides the possibility of recycling it for further industrial applications."

Explore further: How does enzymatic pretreatment affect the nanostructure and reaction space of lignocellulosic biomass?

More information: Characterization of mercury bioremediation by transgenic bacteria expressing metallothionein and polyphosphate kinase, Oscar N Ruiz, Derry Alvarez, Gloriene Gonzalez-Ruiz and Cesar Torres, BMC Biotechnology (in press)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Mercury can travel long distances

Dec 12, 2005

University of Washington scientists say they may have determined why mercury in the atmosphere might be washed out more easily than earlier believed.

Bacterial genome may hold answers to mercury mystery

Apr 08, 2011

A newly sequenced bacterial genome from a team led by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory could contain clues as to how microorganisms produce a highly toxic form of mercury.

Mercury reduction tied to emissions laws

Apr 03, 2006

Seven years after Massachusetts passed the nation's toughest mercury emission incinerator laws, mercury found in some freshwater fish is down 32 percent.

Dental chair a possible source of neurotoxic mercury waste

Mar 26, 2008

Mercury is a large component of dental fillings, but it is not believed to pose immediate health risks in that form. When exposed to sulfate-reducing bacteria, however, mercury undergoes a chemical change and becomes methylated, ...

Pennsylvania to issue new mercury limits

Feb 22, 2006

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection reportedly plans to order a substantial cut in toxic mercury emissions from coal-burning plants.

Recommended for you

Quest to unravel mysteries of our gene network

12 hours ago

There are roughly 27,000 genes in the human body, all but a relative few of them connected through an intricate and complex network that plays a dominant role in shaping our physiological structure and functions.

EU court clears stem cell patenting

14 hours ago

A human egg used to produce stem cells but unable to develop into a viable embryo can be patented, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.