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Scientists decode DNA of bacterium that cleans up uranium contamination and generates electricity

WASHINGTON, DC Department of Energy-funded researchers have decoded and analyzed the genome of a bacterium with the potential to bioremediate radioactive metals and generate electricity. In an article published in the December 12th issue of Science, researchers at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, report that Geobacter sulfurreducens possesses extraordinary capabilities to transport electrons and "reduce" metal ions as part of its energy-generating metabolism.

"The genome of this tiny microorganism may help us to address some of our most difficult cleanup problems and to generate power through biologically-based energy sources," Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said. "Geobacter is an important part of Nature's toolbox for meeting environmental and energy challenges. This genome sequence and the additional research that it makes possible may lead to new strategies and biotechnologies for cleaning up groundwater at DOE and at industry sites."

The contamination of groundwater with radionuclides and metals is one of the most challenging environmental problems at Department of Energy former nuclear weapons production sites. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have previously found that Geobacter species can precipitate a wide range of radionuclides and metals (including uranium, technetium and chromium) from groundwater, preventing them from migrating to wells or rivers where they may pose a risk to humans and the environment.

The analysis of the genome sequence revealed a number of capacities that had not been previously suspected from past research on this microbe. "We've provided a comprehensive picture that has led to fundamental changes in how scientists evaluate this microbe," said Barbara Methe, the TIGR researcher who led the genome project and is the first author of the Science paper. "Research based on genome data has shown that this microbe can se
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Contact: Jeff Sherwood
jeff.sherwood@hq.doe.gov
202-586-4826
DOE/US Department of Energy
11-Dec-2003


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