The Giant Mine in Canada is in the sub-arctic. It contains over 230,000 tonnes of arsenic-containing dust, making it one of the most polluted places on Earth as well as one of the most inhospitable.
"Water seeps through the mine cracks carrying the arsenic with it as it drips down the walls," said Thomas Osborne from University College London, UK. "We discovered new types of bacteria living in biofilms on the walls of Giant Mine that consume arsenic compounds contained in the polluted water seeping through."
Arsenic is toxic to all living cells, and in people causes fatal cancers of the lung, liver, kidney and bladder. It also causes cirrhosis and gangrene, and on a wider scale seriously damages wildlife in fragile environments. Arsenic contamination is a global problem, with some countries including Vietnam, West Bengal, Mexico, Canada, Argentina, Bangladesh and USA all severely affected.
"Until now, no bacteria have ever been isolated that can thrive in cold temperatures and deal with arsenic contamination. The new bacteria we discovered function at temperatures from 20oC down as low as 4oC," said Thomas Osborne. "These bacteria also live in a community called a biofilm, which means that we can build them into a new system to clean up contaminated areas by removing the arsenic from soil or drinking water, even in the cold far north and south, or in winter".
"The other exciting possibility that this opens up is that we can isolate the enzyme from these new strains of bacteria and develop an arsenic biosensor to use in cold environments. This will warn when traces of arsenic are escaping from areas like mine workings, industrial chemical facilities, or even laboratories, alerting us before pollution manages to get into watercourses or drinking water supplies. We could also use it to test newly drilled wells in countries like Bangladesh where water supplies are known to be contaminated," said Thomas Osborne.
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The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
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Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
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