Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Montana State team finds Yellowstone alga that detoxifies arsenic

11.03.2009
Arsenic may be tough, but scientists have found a Yellowstone National Park alga that's tougher.

The alga -- a simple one-celled algae called Cyanidioschyzon -- thrives in extremely toxic conditions and chemically modifies arsenic that occurs naturally around hot springs, said Tim McDermott, professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences at Montana State University.

Cyanidioschyzon could someday help reclaim arsenic-laden mine waste and aid in everything from space exploration to creating safer foods and herbicides, the scientists said.

The alga and how it detoxifies arsenic are described in a paper that's posted this week (week of March 9) in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS. Lead authors are McDermott and Barry Rosen, of Florida International University. Among the four co-authors is Corinne Lehr, who formerly worked with McDermott as a postdoctoral scientist at MSU and is now a faculty member at California Polytechnic State University.

Arsenic is the most common toxic substance in the environment, ranking first on the Superfund list of hazardous substances, the researchers wrote in their paper. McDermott said arsenic is very common in the hot, acidic waters of Yellowstone and presents real challenges for microorganisms living in these conditions. Indeed, there are challenges for the researchers. McDermott said the acid in the soil and water are strong enough that it sometimes eats holes through his jeans when he kneels to collect samples.

McDermott has worked in Yellowstone for more than a decade and travels year-round to the Norris Geyser Basin to study the microbial mats that grow in acidic springs. Over the years, he noticed thick algae mats that were so lush and green in December that they looked like Astro-Turf, McDermott said. By June, they were practically gone. While investigating the change, McDermott and his collaborators learned about the Cyanidiales alga and its ability to reduce arsenic to a less dangerous form.

"These algae are such a dominant member of the microbiology community that they can't escape notice, but for some reason they have not attracted much attention," McDermott said.

The Cyanidioschyzon algae grow all over Yellowstone, but the researchers concentrated on the Norris Geyser Basin, McDermott said. The alga thrives in water up to 135 degrees Fahrenheit (too hot to shower) with a very acidic pH factor ranging from 0.5 to 3.5. Creeks are considered acidic if their pH factor is less than 7.

"These algae live in areas of Yellowstone that are extremely toxic with respect to arsenic," McDermott said. "You couldn't drink these waters even if you changed their pH."

The scientists cloned genes from the alga, then studied the enzymes to figure out how they transformed arsenic. They learned that the alga oxidizes, reduces and converts arsenic to several forms that are less toxic than the original.

Rosen said one significant form is a gas that can evaporate, especially at the high temperatures of the Yellowstone springs. That allows life to exist in "really deadly concentrations of arsenic," he said.

"It gives us insight into how life adapts to extreme environments," Rosen added. "If life can grow at high temperatures and high concentrations of heavy metals like arsenic, life might be able to evolve on other planets or moons such as Titan or Enceladus."

McDermott said the scientists conducted basic research that may have implications someday for acid mine drainage and acid rock drainage remediation efforts.

"Any time you learn anything about eukaryotic algae and their potential application for bioremediation, that's always good," he said.

Eukaryotic refers to microorganisms that have cells with membranes enclosing complex structures. Cyanidioschyzon is a simple one-celled organism classified as a red algae.

Rosen added that the alga they studied is a primitive plant, so it might shed light on how plants can tolerate arsenic, which is used in several types of herbicides. The knowledge they gained could also be used someday to help create a new type of rice.

"Some plants, such as rice, accumulate high concentrations of arsenic. This endangers our food supply," Rosen explained. "Rice with high amounts of arsenic won't kill anyone quickly, but does increase the risk of cancers such as bladder cancer."

McDermott said when he first thought about investigating the changing colors in the Yellowstone algae mats, he figured that something more than photosynthesis had to be involved. He thought altitude and latitude played a role. Some of the hot springs have no trees around them, so he wondered if the intense June sun was hammering the algae.

Molecular evidence suggests that the algae in these springs are comprised of two different population groups, McDermott said. One flourishes in the winter and the other in the summer. The algae that dominates in the summer can apparently tolerate high levels of ultraviolet rays.

Evelyn Boswell | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.montana.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>