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In Boston Harbor, microbes clean up
Two centuries after the Boston Tea Party, a lot more than tea has accumulated on the floor of Massachusetts Bay-and much of it is anything but potable. Now scientists have some good news for Boston Harbor. A new study finds that bacteria can degrade toxic petroleum byproducts in the bay's sediment, despite its lack of oxygen. What is true in the laboratory is also true in nature, the researchers found. In the laboratory, certain bacteria degrade substances known as PAHs through a process called 'anaerobic' breakdown, in which sulfate replaces oxygen. This process, the researchers suggest, also occurs in Boston Harbor.
Discovers Pollutant-eating Microbe
ITHACA, N.Y. -- Cornell University microbiologists, looking for bioremediation microbes to "eat" toxic pollutants, report the first field test of a technique called stable isotopic probing (SIP) in a contaminated site. And they announce the discovery and isolation of a bacterium that biodegrades naphthalene in coal tar contamination. Although naphthalene is not the most toxic component in coal tar, the microbiologists say their discovery might eventually help to speed the cleanup of hundreds of 19th and 20th century gasworks throughout the United States where the manufacture of gas from coal for homes and street lighting left a toxic legacy in the ground.
Microbe Cleans Up Wastewater
Scientists have discovered a microbe in Yellowstone National Park that could be used to clean up wastewater, providing an economical and natural way for paper and clothes manufacturers to treat water before releasing it back into rivers and streams. The microbe itself would not be used in the cleanup. Instead, scientists extract a protein from the microbe and add it directly to industrial wastewater. The protein breaks down hydrogen peroxide, which is often used to bleach clothes and paper before they're dyed or to sterilize paper food packages such as juice boxes.
Microbe Munches Coal Pollutants
In a 40-year old dump in Upstate New York, scientists have found a microbe busy at work cleaning up man's toxic messes. The newly discovered microbe breaks down naphthalene in coal tar, a residue left behind from the production of gas from coal for street lamps and homes in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chemicals from coal tar can contaminate groundwater and there are hundreds of these potentially hazardous sites throughout the United States.
Microbe that breaks down metals
Scientists have determined the genome sequence of a microbe that has the potential to help remove pollutants from the environment. Found in soil and sediment worldwide, the bacterium transforms, or reduces, metals like iron and uranium, causing them to drop out of groundwater. The bacterium, Shewanella oneidensis, could potentially be used to clean up run-off from copper mines. The research is part of an ongoing effort supported by the US Department of Energy to investigate microbes that may help solve environmental problems. Just as humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, the bacterium metabolizes metals and changes their chemical structures by giving them electrons. In their new form, the toxins precipitate out of groundwater and can be isolated.
Implications of Harmful Microalgae
Worldwide increases in the frequency and spatial extent of blooms of harmful marine microalgae and heterotrophic dinoflagellates suggest that these species are becoming an increasingly important influence on year class strength of marine fishes through both direct and indirect mechanisms. Impacts on fish populations from harmful marine microalgae and heterotrophic dinoflagellates have been considered primarily from the limited view of acute or lethal influences. Accumulating evidence indicates that insidious sublethal and chronic impacts to both fish and human health from these organisms, such as long-term behavior alteration, increased susceptibility to cancers and other diseases, depressed feeding, and impaired reproduction, may be substantial and pervasive.

Helping microbes battle pollutants
The environmentalists of the future are microbes that could rid the earth of toxins like PCBs. In a new study, scientists have revealed the details of a 'bottleneck' that prevents some bacteria from converting PCBs-chemicals used to make lubricants and coolants-into smaller, less harmful molecules. The information could lead to improved strategies for using microscopic organisms to eliminate industrial pollutants. Although the existence of bottlenecks isn't news to researchers, the study describes for the first time the crystal structures of the molecules involved in logjams. The bacteria in the study were a type of Burkholderia, one of many microbes that can digest PCBs.

Key player in global warming
The unsung heroes of the global carbon cycle are methanogens-microbes at the bottom of the food chain who break down the waste products of other organisms and release methane gas into the atmosphere. Scientists have now sequenced one of the most versatile methanogens, an organism called Methanosarcina acetivorans. Methanosarcina species live in oil wells, sewage lagoons, trash dumps, decaying leaves, stream sediments, and the stomach of cows, among other places. They subsist on a diverse menu of energy sources, including acetate. With the genome sequenced, researchers have begun to search for genes responsible for the organism's capacity to adapt and break down a variety of waste products.

A Hope For Oil Spill Bioremediation
A recently published article in Environmental Microbiology reveals that indigenous microbiota of the Galician shore is readily able to degrade crude oil. Scientists from the Estación Experimental del Zaidín (Spanish Council for Research, CSIC) in Granada investigated in situ crude oil degradation after the Prestige oil spill in November 2002. After a spill, hydrocarbons are subjected to physicochemical processes such as evaporation or photochemical oxidation which produce changes in oil composition. But the most important process acting on the spilled oil is biodegradation. It is well established that most crude oils are biodegradable to a great extent, especially components as short linear alkanes or simple aromatic hydrocarbons. However, the heavy fraction, made of long-chain saturated and polyaromatic hydrocarbons and a considerable fraction of asphaltenes and resins, is generally recalcitrant to degradation.

Got a Toxic Mess? Call in the Microbes
Chlorinated solvents are nasty chemicals. But in the 1960s and 1970s, before anyone realized just how nasty they were, the United States government and some industrial manufacturers used the solvents freely, often dumping the leftovers in landfills or "out the back door." Today, the solvents are some of the most prevalent contaminants in groundwater in the United States. The chemicals are thought to cause cancer, and they're expensive to clean up. But oddly enough, some bacteria are already cleaning them up. These microbes live in soil and groundwater, and they "eat" the solvents, turning them into harmless substances. The federal government and some private companies are using the bacteria, called Dehalococcoides, to clean up toxic messes by putting them en masse into groundwater at contaminated sites.

Cleaning Up Arsenic
By adding genes to common weeds, scientists have created a new tool for cleaning up environmental toxins: Plants that take up arsenic from the soil and sequester it in their leaves, where the pollutant can later be removed. One application would be to remove dangerous concentrations of arsenic that leach into drinking water. The researchers added two bacterial genes to the weed Arabidopsis thaliana, which is the laboratory mouse of plant genetics. The first bacterial gene helps convert arsenic from soil to a form that can be 'sucked up' and stored. The second gene helps the plant detoxify heavy metals and accumulate the molecules in its leaves.

A microorganism or microbe is an organism that is microscopic (invisible to the naked eye). Microorganisms are often described as single-celled, or unicellular organisms; however, some unicellular protists are visible to the naked eye, and some multicellular species are microscopic. The study of microorganisms is called microbiology. Microorganisms can be found almost anywhere in the taxonomic organisation of life on the planet. Unicellular organisms carry out all the functions of life. Bacteria and archaea are almost always microscopic, whilst a number of eukaryotes are also microscopic, including most protists and a number of fungi. Unicellular species are those whose members consist of a single cell throughout their life cycle. This qualification is significant since most multicellular organisms consist of a single cell at the beginning of their life cycles. Unicellular organisms usually contain only a single copy of their genome when not undergoing cell division, although some organisms have multiple cell nuclei.
Super Microbe Cleans Up Uranium
During the Cold War, the United States produced uranium for its nuclear weapons at Rifle Mill in Western Colorado. The mine closed in 1972, but the uranium has caused lasting effects on the area, despite clean-up efforts. Uranium remains underground today, and radioactive metal from the site is still contaminating groundwater that eventually flows into the Colorado River. But there may be a solution that's natural and efficient. Some microbes in the soil change metals such as uranium from a dangerous, soluble form to an insoluble form that falls out of the groundwater, where it could be collected and safely removed. The microbes live in the ground, and they can be stimulated to grow naturally by adding vinegar to the soil. One such microbe is Geobacter sulfurreducens. Researchers funded by the U.S. Department of Energy have used the microbe to reduce uranium in the water at Rifle Mill by over 70 percent. And further research this past summer reduced uranium in water at the site by 90 percent.
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