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Subsurface bacteria release phosphate to convert uranium contamination to immobile form

eralized by the phosphate released by the bacteria." The bacteria's role is crucial in this process because uranium cannot dissociate the organo-phosphate compound chemically, Taillefert explained. So uranium in the presence of organo-phosphate alone does not result in significant uranium precipitation.

Sobecky and her Ph.D. student Robert Martinez are conducting the microbiological and physiological component of the research, while Taillefert and Beazley study the uranium chemistry and analyze distribution of different forms of uranium during incubation in the lab.

"The devil's in the details with the chemistry of uranium: There are numerous forms of uranium in the environment, which are all influenced by the natural properties of soils and groundwater," Taillefert said.

Sobecky added, "What we're doing now is optimizing the assay conditions and the techniques to analyze the distribution of uranium species in the lab."

Traditionally, DOE has funded research investigating the chemical reduction of uranium contamination. But there are two approaches to immobilizing uranium. One strategy reduces uranium (VI) to uranium (IV), which is, in principle, immobile. But the uranium can re-oxidize even with traces of oxygen from rainwater seeping into the groundwater. The Georgia Tech approach biomineralizes uranium (VI) into an insoluble form of uranium via phosphate precipitation.

As they work toward a bioremediation strategy that will work in the field, researchers must design a mechanism to deal with competing organisms in the soil that might sequester the free phosphate, Sobecky noted. Though their current grant does not cover the cost of a field study, researchers hope to obtain funds in the future to test their strategy at Oak Ridge and potentially other DOE sites. Uranium contamination is a concern at DOE sites because it can migrate to groundwater in surrounding areas, Taillefert noted.

"At this point, we know the organisms we'
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Contact: Jane Sanders
jane.sanders@edi.gatech.edu
404-894-2214
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
30-Mar-2006


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