Bioremediation, or the use of micro-organisms to reduce, eliminate, or contain contaminants, is a growing and hopeful field. Toxic waste has always been a messy problem, but an engineered form of a bacterium called Deinococcus radiodurans has researchers excited about the use of this bacterium for toxic waste clean-up. In a recent study, D. radiodurans transformed radioactive toxic mercury compounds (which are a byproduct of nuclear production sites) into less toxic, less soluble chemical forms. The research by Michael Daly of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and others, appears in the January 2000 issue of Nature Biotechnology. Recently, researchers sequenced the entire genome of D. radiodurans. The hope is that modified versions of the bacterium may be used for purposes ranging from toxic waste clean-up to soaking up radiation on Mars to make the planet more hospitable to humans. At the forefront of bioremediation research, D. radiodurans, an extremophile which may have originated in the radioactive environment of early Earth, is the only bacterium known to resist high levels of radiation. This week's In the News focuses on bioremediation with an emphasis on the remarkable development of newly engineered forms of Deinococcus radiodurans.
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