In tackling lead pollution, fungi may be our friends

Jan 12, 2012

Fungi may be unexpected allies in our efforts to keep hazardous lead under control. That's based on the unexpected discovery that fungi can transform lead into its most stable mineral form. The findings reported online on January 12 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, suggest that this interaction between fungi and lead may be occurring in nature anywhere the two are found together. It also suggests that the introduction or encouragement of fungi may be a useful treatment strategy for lead-polluted sites.

"Lead is usually regarded as a pretty stable substance," said Geoffrey Gadd of the University of Dundee. "The idea that fungi and other may attack it and change its form is quite unexpected."

Lead is an important structural and industrial material and, as an unfortunate consequence of its popular use in everything from firearms to paint, lead contamination is a serious problem worldwide. There have been efforts to contain lead in contaminated soils through the addition of sources of phosphorus, an element that enables the incorporation of lead into a stable pyromorphite mineral. But that change had been considered a purely chemical and , not a biological one. That is, until now.

In the new study, the researchers carefully examined lead shot after it had been incubated with and without fungi. In the presence of fungi, the lead shot began to show evidence of pyromorphite formation after one month's time. That stable lead-containing mineral continued to increase in abundance with time. Minerals found on the surface of lead shot incubated without fungi represented less stable forms as a result of normal corrosion.

"It seems the ability of many fungi to produce or other substances may be very important in attacking the lead and releasing forms of free lead including lead complexes, which can then react with phosphorus sources to form pyromorphite," Gadd explained.

While not all species of fungus are able to transform lead in this way, it appears that many of them can, he added. It's not entirely clear why some fungi do this, but it might assist their survival in contaminated soils.

The discovery is yet another example of the "amazing things that , and microbes more generally, can do in the environment," says Gadd. "Even metals can be subject to microbial colonization and attack."

Explore further: Molecular gate that could keep cancer cells locked up

Related Stories

Mold fungi can cure plants

Nov 01, 2011

We know them from our garden, from damp cellars or from the fridge - mold fungi can be found almost everywhere. Their success is due to their remarkable versatility:  depending on external conditions, ...

Long-term co-evolution stability studied

Jun 27, 2006

U.S. biologists say the world's fungus-farming ants cultivate essentially the same fungus and aren't as critical to fungi reproduction as had been thought.

SFU student researches fungi fighting controls

Oct 05, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- If Andrew Wylie achieves his goal -- to use fungi to fight fungi on diseased organic greenhouse vegetables -- there’ll likely be a lot of growers giving him thanks on a future Thanksgiving ...

With fungi on their side, rice plants grow to be big

Jun 10, 2010

By tinkering with a type of fungus that lives in association with plant roots, researchers have found a way to increase the growth of rice by an impressive margin. The so-called mycorrhizal fungi are found ...

Recommended for you

Molecular gate that could keep cancer cells locked up

Jul 31, 2014

In a study published today in Genes & Development, Dr Christian Speck from the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre's DNA Replication group, in collaboration with Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), New York, ...

The 'memory' of starvation is in your genes

Jul 31, 2014

During the winter of 1944, the Nazis blocked food supplies to the western Netherlands, creating a period of widespread famine and devastation. The impact of starvation on expectant mothers produced one of the first known ...

Sugar mimics guide stem cells toward neural fate

Jul 30, 2014

Embryonic stem cells can develop into a multitude of cells types. Researchers would like to understand how to channel that development into the specific types of mature cells that make up the organs and other structures of ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Cave_Man
not rated yet Jan 12, 2012
I like fungi.