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Geobacter: Produces Electricity While Cleaning Nuclear Waste

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

MSU microbiologist Gemma Reguera (right) and her team of researchers have unraveled the mystery of how microbes generate electricity while cleaning up nuclear waste. (Credit: Michael Steger)

“Researchers at Michigan State University have unraveled the mystery of how microbes generate electricity while cleaning up nuclear waste and other toxic metals.

Details of the process, which can be improved and patented, are published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The implications could eventually benefit sites forever changed by nuclear contamination, said Gemma Reguera, MSU microbiologist.

“Geobacter bacteria are tiny micro-organisms that can play a major role in cleaning up polluted sites around the world,” said Reguera, who is an MSU AgBioResearch scientist. “Uranium contamination can be produced at any step in the production of nuclear fuel, and this process safely prevents its mobility and the hazard for exposure.”

The ability of Geobacter to immobilize uranium has been well documented. However, identifying the Geobacters’ conductive pili or nanowires as doing the yeoman’s share of the work is a new revelation. Nanowires, hair-like appendages found on the outside of Geobacters, are the managers of electrical activity during a cleanup.”

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