Researcher uses bacteria to make radioactive metals inert

Sep 08, 2009
Judy Wall, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Missouri, is working with bacteria that convert toxic radioactive metal to inert substances. Credit: Reprinted with permission from MIZZOU magazine.

The Lost Orphan Mine below the Grand Canyon hasn't produced uranium since the 1960s, but radioactive residue still contaminates the area. Cleaning the region takes an expensive process that is only done in extreme cases, but Judy Wall, a biochemistry professor at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, is researching the use of sulfate-reducing bacteria to convert toxic radioactive metal to inert substances, a much more economical solution.

The bacteria Wall is studying are bio-corrosives and can change the solubility of heavy metals. They can take uranium and convert it to uraninite, a nearly insoluble substance that will sink to the bottom of a lake or stream. Wall is looking into the bacteria's water cleansing ability and how long the changed material would remain inert.

Wall's research could also be beneficial to heavy metal from storage tanks and industrial waste. The bacteria are already present in more than 7,000 contaminated sites, but they live in a specific range of oxygen and temperature, making them difficult to control.

"Our research must be done in the absence of air," Wall said. "Obviously, none but the most committed - and stubborn - will work with them."

Even if an oxygen-tolerant strain were developed, there are still multiple factors that would make applying the bacteria challenging, and these microbes can contribute to massive iron corrosion.

"Knowledge of the way bacteria live in the environment, in microbial communities, is still in its infancy," Wall said. "We just don't know a lot about the communication systems among microbes."

Wall and researchers from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in California are investigating the bacterium's basic genetics and hope to determine its growth limits and activity in natural settings, including how to make its interactions with metals sustainable. They have already identified a few genes that are critical to converting uranium.

Wall's research has been published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Nucleic Acids Research and Environmental Microbiology.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia (news : web)

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dachpyarvile
2.6 / 5 (7) Sep 08, 2009
Great! Edit the genetic code of bacteria to deposit radioactive waste into the bottoms of lakes. What a wonderful way to irradiate better the life in the ecosystem that lives on the bottoms of these lakes!
Damon_Hastings
4.2 / 5 (6) Sep 08, 2009
Hmm... so the material is rendered chemically inert... but still just as radioactive. As dachpyarvile pointed out, this merely moves the radiation from one part of an ecosystem to another (and concentrates it in the process.) The article provides no explanation as to why this would be an improvement.

Also, if these bacteria selectively interact with radioactive materials, wouldn't that make them mutate with unusual speed? Could be interesting to see what came of that...
dachpyarvile
5 / 5 (3) Sep 08, 2009
This part worries me the most:

Even if an oxygen-tolerant strain were developed, there are still multiple factors that would make applying the bacteria challenging, and these microbes can contribute to massive iron corrosion.


Just what we need if the bacteria got out of containment. Imagine all our iron-based infrastructure being contaminated with this stuff....
Damon_Hastings
5 / 5 (2) Sep 08, 2009
Containment? I thought they were talking about releasing it into lakes and streams...
Arikin
4.5 / 5 (2) Sep 09, 2009
Yes if these oxygen intolerant bacteria get out into the open AIR... Who knows what would happen.

"The bacteria are already present in more than 7,000 heavy metal contaminated sites, but they live in a specific range of oxygen and temperature, " So change those variables and they die off.

As for putting them into lakes they would do this as a way to take the polluting metals out of the water. If a metal is made insoluble it can sink down and be taken out. But yes you are right this should be done as a filtering system separate from the lake where one can easily catch the metals.
Myria83
not rated yet Sep 09, 2009
All this seems quite dangerous to me...
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Sep 09, 2009
Yes if these oxygen intolerant bacteria get out into the open AIR... Who knows what would happen.

...


They are planning to modify them to make them more hardy and able to survive differing conditions....
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Sep 09, 2009
Containment? I thought they were talking about releasing it into lakes and streams...


They were talking about releasing the finished product of the genetic alterations into lakes and streams. They currently are studying these microbes in the lab, which means that they are in containment--for now.
Damon_Hastings
3 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2009
It's the finished product I'm worried about -- especially if it's spending a lot of time around mutagenic materials! They'll take steps to suppress its iron-corroding properties, I'm sure... but depending on how they do that, a simple mutation might undo it.

If a metal is made insoluble it can sink down and be taken out.

Ah, I see! First they make the stuff sink, and then they dredge it out. Okay, that makes more sense, then. Glad I read these comments; the article made no mention of this detail. Of course, dredging is expensive, and you can't really dredge a stream... but maybe they have solutions for those problems.
KBK
1 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2009
Bronwn's gas, HHO, or "Rhode's Gas" has been found to reduce radioactivity in radioactive substances (by using the flame on the material to sublimate or near sublimate it) by a factor of OVER 98%.

This testing was done by the Canadian government's Atomic research branch and done in a laboratory, by government people..and fully documented. This is in the form of a video that is available on the internet.

The reason it is not known, is that interest in this incredible aspect of Brown's gas raises humongous issues and questions on the nature of 'known science' as it sidesteps the known aspects in near totality and creates gigantic questions about atomic structure and the very fabric of space and matter.

You can test this as I HAVE DONE MYSELF..for less than $500, by buying a torch of the exact same type. They are used in the jewelery industry as they are the ONLY device that allows for perfect fusion of materials with zero residue of ANY kind.

Step up to the plate - and figure it out.
dachpyarvile
5 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2009
That is a load of crap. All you did was change its state and inhale it. Brown's gas or CO, as it is otherwise known, does not eliminate uranium or any form of radioactive waste and reduce radioactivity.

All you did was evaporate the stuff and put it into the air around you. Of course the sample that is left would be "less" radioactive. It would have less mass because the rest of the mass ended up in your lungs and the other rooms of wherever you did the experiment! :)
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Sep 09, 2009
Meant to type HHO but was thinking about CO at the moment... Oh well...rest of the argument still applies.
toyo
1 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2009
I wonder who chose the misleading title?
Obviously no-one with a shred of scientific integrity...
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Sep 09, 2009
What is misleading about the title? The metals are rendered chemically inert, just not radioactively inert. I do agree that the title could have been written better, however.
KBK
1 / 5 (2) Sep 09, 2009
That is a load of crap. All you did was change its state and inhale it. Brown's gas or CO, as it is otherwise known, does not eliminate uranium or any form of radioactive waste and reduce radioactivity.



All you did was evaporate the stuff and put it into the air around you. Of course the sample that is left would be "less" radioactive. It would have less mass because the rest of the mass ended up in your lungs and the other rooms of wherever you did the experiment! :)


You have not done your homework,and you are ignorant. That is the best that can be said about your 'comment'. Ie, you don't know shit from shinola.
dachpyarvile
4.5 / 5 (2) Sep 09, 2009
You know even less. One thing I find REALLY FUNNY is the fact that people call Brown's Gas HHO! That is not even its chemical formula! All it is really is a ratio of a combination of H2 and O2. 2H2 plus O2. Nothing more!

When you sublimate a radioactive metal you convert it into a gas. That is one of the primary meanings of the term in chemistry. When you convert a metal to a gaseous state, you essentially vaporize it and send it into the air you breathe. It is no wonder that what is left over after sublimating it has less radioactivity.

There is no change in the atomic composition of the Americium or other radioactive elements and compounds. You just send it into the air you breathe and the geiger counter is going to pick up less radiation from the sublimate.

You just go right ahead inhaling that radioactive waste while being duped by fraudsters in the Republic of China.

If you PM me your name I'll be sure to nominate you for a Darwin Award when you die from lung cancer.