Positive Environment News

Pollution-eating microbe may help clean up - US study

Date: 04-Nov-02
Country: USA

The newly discovered microbe derives energy by degrading trichloroethane, or TCA, a widely used industrial solvent found at half of the contaminated U.S. Superfund sites, Michigan State University researchers reported in the journal Science.

The microbe, dubbed TCA1, breaks down trichloroethane to a less-toxic substance, said Baolin Sun, a postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of the study.

Testing so far has found TCA is the only substance the new bacterium targets, Sun said.

Bacteria that consume other toxins have been discovered previously, but the search for one that goes after TCA had been fruitless. "For a while, people didn't think this bug existed. Now we've solved it," Sun said.

Trichloroethane contaminates ground water and also erodes the ozone layer when released into the atmosphere.

The TCA1 bacterium uses and hydrogen to produce energy in the absence of oxygen, the researchers reported.

"The only way we know how to grow the bacteria is to feed it TCA," Michigan State doctoral student Benjamin Griffin said.

TCA1 was isolated from sediment dredged from the bottom of New York's Hudson River and also occurs naturally in Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

The discovery of the bacterium "suggests a strategy for bioremediation of TCA in soils and ground water, thereby aiding in the attenuation of this ozone-depleting compound," the study said.

© Thomson Reuters 2002 All rights reserved

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