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INEEL uses extremophile bacteria to ease bleaching's environmental cost

In the steamy waters of Yellowstone National Park's hot springs lives a type of bacterium that could help make industrial bleaching cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Scientists have found Thermus brockianus bacteria produce a hardy enzyme that can be put to work breaking down hydrogen peroxide in industrial wastewater, producing only harmless oxygen and water as byproducts. Most important, the so-called extremozyme endures harsh industrial conditions better than currently available alternatives and lasts thousands of times longer.

R&D Magazine declared the isolation and production of the enzyme -- named the Ultrastable Catalase Enzyme by the Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory researchers who found it -- to be one of the 100 most significant technological achievements of 2004. Chemical engineer Vicki Thompson and biologists William Apel and Kastli Schaller from INEEL will be recognized at the R&D Magazine awards banquet in Chicago on Oct. 14, 2004.

"It's exciting that the R&D 100 chose a project involving extremophiles," Thompson says. "It will help spread the word about the practical applications and environmental benefits that can come from extremophilic research."

Since the 1980s, cloth and paper manufacturers and other industries have experimented with using hydrogen peroxide instead of toxic chlorine bleach to whiten and disinfect products. Hydrogen peroxide can rid fresh fruits and vegetables of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli; pasteurize dairy products; and sterilize paper food packages such as juice boxes, which eliminates the need for refrigeration.

To remove the hydrogen peroxide left over in wastewater after bleaching, some industrial chemists turn to a special type of enzyme called a catalase. Catalase enzymes, found in most living things, break down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. This protects cells from oxidative stress -- the biological equi
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Contact: Regina Nuzzo
nuzzrl@inel.gov
208-526-3176
DOE/Idaho National Laboratory
13-Oct-2004


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