Microbes continue to offer surprises by their range of capabilities and versatility. When studying a microbe in its natural environment for a particular application, scientists often find that it also does something quite different and useful. A new study of the basic biological processes of methane-producing bacteria (methanotrophs) found that Methylocystis strain SB2 can also grow on acetate or ethanol and degrade a wide range of halogenated hydrocarbons. A specific pollutant-degrading protein, particulate methane monooxygenase (pMMO), attacked pollutants of interest while the bacteria used ethanol to grow. Ethanol added to contaminated groundwater enhances the ability of the groundwater to “flush” pollutants such as trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene. The authors suggest that the resulting aqueous ethanol-pollutant solution can be passed through a methanotrophic bioreactor where both ethanol and the pollutants are removed by a bacterium like Methylocystis strain SB2. The study, which began as a project to understand how methanotrophs that produce a metal-binding compound (methanobactin) affect the behavior of copper and mercury in the environment, led to new discoveries that could provide novel bioremediation strategies.
Reference: Jagadevan, S., and J. D. Semrau. 2012. “Priority Pollutant Degradation by the Facultative Methanotroph, Methylocystis Strain SB2,” Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, DOI: 10.1007/s00253-012-4310-y. (Reference link).
Contact: Arthur Katz, SC-23.2, (301) 903-4932
SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER
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