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Rutgers helping Finns explore arctic microbes

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. A Finnish consortium aided by Rutgers has launched an $800,000, three-year project to mine the diverse, sturdy bacterial strains found in Finland's arctic region.

Microbiologists suspect arctic Finland, a cold land of boreal forests and stark mountain tundra with long, dark winters, heavy snowfall and brief summers, may contain frozen biological bounty far more valuable than the region's current money-maker, the Santa Claus tourist trade.

The group hopes to use the microbes' cold-loving biochemical powers to develop industrial processes and products, and to build a regional biotech industry. The consortium also plans to develop ways the microbes can be used to biodegrade and clean up toxic organic contaminants in cold regions and help preserve fragile forest and tundra environments.

"There is tremendous metabolic activity in the bacterial world," said Rutgers Professor of Microbiology Max Haggblom, leader of the Finnish research team that is prospecting for the organisms. "We don't know what's out there yet, and we know very little about how microorganisms function in the cold world.

"Scientists have explored less than one percent of the microbial diversity on earth, and probably a lot less than that in the earth's cold regions," continued Haggblom. "Researchers have cultivated only a small fraction of all microbes in laboratories because they can't mimic the environment the microbes are growing in. We hope to expand our knowledge of microbial diversity and learn to cultivate new microbes."

Earlier this year, Haggblom helped form the consortium comprising Rutgers, the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Forest Research Institute, and the Rovaniemi Regional Economic Development Agency, with funding from the Finnish Technology Agency (TEKES).

Rovaniemi, an industrial town and trade center of some 35,000 inhabitants on the Arctic Circle, is five miles south of "Santa's home," w
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Contact: Joseph Blumberg
blumberg@ur.rutgers.edu
732-932-7084 x652
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
12-Dec-2001


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