Bacterium gobbles up chlorinated pollutants

rticle "Isolation of a Bacterium that Reductively Dechlorinates Tetrachloroethene to Ethene," the best available bioremediation organisms could only reduce tetrachloroethene to vinyl chloride. "They were turning a suspected carcinogen into a known carcinogen," Gossett said. In carefully controlled laboratory conditions, however, Strain 195 goes all the way.

That doesn't mean the Cornell bioremediation researchers will start injecting truck loads of Strain 195 into pollution sites. For one thing, 195 is difficult to grow by itself; it seems to need chemical collaboration with other bacteria, and the pollution cleanup process may benefit from a little enhancement with extra hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorous or even vitamins.

"Strain 195 needs a lot of vitamin B-12. It doesn't have the capability to make B-12," Gossett said, "and we wouldn't have known about those needs without isolating the organism."

Armed with new knowledge about 195 and other anaerobic pollution-eaters, a Cornell team led by Gossett and Zinder is better prepared to recommend bioremediation protocols. Their mission, funded again by the U.S. Air Force, will take them to military airbases with subterranean pollution problems.

Among the bioremediation test sites are a former B-52 airbase in Plattsburgh, N.Y., where planners hope to replace Air Force operations with an eco-industrial park, and a still-functioning base in Fallon, Nev., where the U.S. Navy's "Top Gun" fighter pilots train. Like many other airbases, the New York and Nevada facilities harbor concentrations of toxins, especially around pits where crash-and-rescue personnel dumped jet fuel for firefighting practice -- and threw in leftover chlorinated solvents "to get rid of them."

If chlorinated solvents were that easy to destroy, Gossett said, then tetrachloroethene, trichlorothene and other related chemicals would not be the number-two ground water pollutant (after petroleum hydrocarbons). However, Strain 195 and oth

Contact: Roger Segelken
Cornell University News Service

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