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: For clean air

Related Stories

For clean air

March 30, 2007

In addition to nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides, many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in air contribute to smog and high ozone levels, as well as potentially damaging human health. Clean-air laws are thus rightly continuing ...

How crystal becomes a conductor

February 5, 2008

Squeeze a crystal of manganese oxide hard enough, and it changes from an electrical insulator to a conductive metal. In a report published online this week by the journal Nature Materials, researchers use computational modeling ...

Scientists unwrap the elements of life

October 22, 2008

Researchers at Newcastle University have taken a step forward in our understanding of how the fundamental building blocks of life are put together.

Scientists identify potential key to Lyme disease

February 9, 2009

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified a protein that may help give Lyme disease its bite. The findings suggest that the bacterial protein, which aids in transporting the metal manganese, is essential ...

Recommended for you

The high cost of communication among social bees

May 26, 2017

(Phys.org)—Eusocial insects are predominantly dependent on chemosensory communication to coordinate social organization and define group membership. As the social complexity of a species increases, individual members require ...

Why communication is vital—even among plants and funghi

May 26, 2017

Plant scientists at the University of Cambridge have found a plant protein indispensable for communication early in the formation of symbiosis - the mutually beneficial relationship between plants and fungi. Symbiosis significantly ...

Darwin was right: Females prefer sex with good listeners

May 26, 2017

Almost 150 years after Charles Darwin first proposed a little-known prediction from his theory of sexual selection, researchers have found that male moths with larger antennae are better at detecting female signals.

Knowledge gap on the origin of sex

May 26, 2017

There are significant gaps in our knowledge on the evolution of sex, according to a research review on sex chromosomes from Lund University in Sweden. Even after more than a century of study, researchers do not know enough ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Andrux
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.
fuzz54
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.
mattytheory
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?
toyo
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.

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.