OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 31 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they are studying micro-organisms in toxic groundwater to find biological methods of dealing with such contaminants.
The research by a collaboration of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Joint Genome Institute and the University of Oklahoma, involved a “stressed” microbial community near a former waste disposal pond on the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee.
The study revealed microbes with an overabundance of genes involved in DNA recombination and repair and other defense mechanisms for dealing with contaminants and other environmental stresses.
The studies, said ORNL researcher David Watson, are aimed at developing ways of reducing the level of contaminants in groundwater, which at the site includes nitrates, solvents and heavy metals, including uranium.
“We are looking to better understand the evolution of microbes in the groundwater plume,” Watson said. “The microbes that can break down nitrate into nitrogen can have a long-term benefit toward attenuating the plume.”
Watson says researchers particularly want to better understand the genetic makeup of microbes that can metabolize oxidized forms of uranium into a form that is only slightly soluble and thus easier to precipitate and remove from the environment.
The study that also included Montana and Michigan State Universities and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was recently published in the on-line edition of the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal.
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