Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Microbes generate electricity while cleaning up nuclear waste

Date:
September 6, 2011
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
Researchers have unraveled the mystery of how microbes generate electricity while cleaning up nuclear waste and other toxic metals. The implications could eventually benefit sites forever changed by nuclear contamination.

MSU microbiologist Gemma Reguera (right) and her team of researchers have unraveled the mystery of how microbes generate electricity while cleaning up nuclear waste.
Credit: Michael Steger

Researchers at Michigan State University have unraveled the mystery of how microbes generate electricity while cleaning up nuclear waste and other toxic metals.

Related Articles


Details of the process, which can be improved and patented, are published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The implications could eventually benefit sites forever changed by nuclear contamination, said Gemma Reguera, MSU microbiologist.

"Geobacter bacteria are tiny micro-organisms that can play a major role in cleaning up polluted sites around the world," said Reguera, who is an MSU AgBioResearch scientist. "Uranium contamination can be produced at any step in the production of nuclear fuel, and this process safely prevents its mobility and the hazard for exposure."

The ability of Geobacter to immobilize uranium has been well documented. However, identifying the Geobacters' conductive pili or nanowires as doing the yeoman's share of the work is a new revelation. Nanowires, hair-like appendages found on the outside of Geobacters, are the managers of electrical activity during a cleanup.

"Our findings clearly identify nanowires as being the primary catalyst for uranium reduction," Reguera said. "They are essentially performing nature's version of electroplating with uranium, effectively immobilizing the radioactive material and preventing it from leaching into groundwater."

The nanowires also shield Geobacter and allow the bacteria to thrive in a toxic environment, she added.

Their effectiveness was proven during a cleanup in a uranium mill tailings site in Rifle, Colo. Researchers injected acetate into contaminated groundwater. Since this is Geobacters' preferred food, it stimulated the growth of the Geobacter community already in the soil, which in turn, worked to remove the uranium, Reguera said.

Reguera and her team of researchers were able to genetically engineer a Geobacter strain with enhanced nanowire production. The modified version improved the efficiency of the bacteria's ability to immobilize uranium proportionally to the number of nanowires while subsequently improving its viability as a catalytic cell.

Reguera has filed patents to build on her research, which could lead to the development of microbial fuel cells capable of generating electricity while cleaning up after environmental disasters.

The research team included Dena Cologgi and Allison Speers, MSU graduate students, and Sanela Lampa-Pastirk and Shelly Kelly, post-doctoral researchers. The National Institute of Environmental Health Science and the U.S. Department of Energy funded the study.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Dena L. Cologgi, Sanela Lampa-Pastirk, Allison M. Speers, Shelly D. Kelly, Gemma Reguera. Extracellular reduction of uranium via Geobacter conductive pili as a protective cellular mechanism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1108616108

Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "Microbes generate electricity while cleaning up nuclear waste." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110906144558.htm>.
Michigan State University. (2011, September 6). Microbes generate electricity while cleaning up nuclear waste. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110906144558.htm
Michigan State University. "Microbes generate electricity while cleaning up nuclear waste." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110906144558.htm (accessed January 30, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, January 30, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Rare Clouds Fill Grand Canyon

Raw: Rare Clouds Fill Grand Canyon

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) For the second time in two months, a rare weather phenomenon filled the Grand Canyon with thick clouds just below the rim on Wednesday. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Senate Passes Bill for Keystone XL Pipeline

Senate Passes Bill for Keystone XL Pipeline

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) The Republican-controlled Senate has passed a bipartisan bill approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
"Cloud Inversion" In Grand Canyon

"Cloud Inversion" In Grand Canyon

Reuters - US Online Video (Jan. 29, 2015) Time lapse video captures a blanket of clouds amassing in the Grand Canyon -- the result of a rare meteorological process called "cloud inversion." Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) Biofuels aren&apos;t the best alternative to fossil fuels, according to a new report. In fact, they&apos;re quite a bad one. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins