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ScienceDaily

Microorganisms in toxic groundwater fine-tuned to survive

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Source: ScienceDaily

Microorganisms can indeed live in extreme environments, but the ones that do are highly adapted to survive and little else, according to a collaboration that includes Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and the University of Oklahoma.

The metagenomic study of a 'stressed' microbial community in groundwater near a former waste disposal pond site on DOE's Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) revealed microbes with an overabundance of genes involved in DNA recombination and repair and other defense mechanisms for dealing with contaminants and other environmental stresses.

The studies, said ORNL researcher David Watson, are ultimately aimed at developing biologically based methods for reducing the level of the contaminants in the groundwater, which at the ORR site includes nitrates, solvents and heavy metals, including uranium.

'We are looking to better understand the evolution of microbes in the groundwater plume,' Watson said. 'The microbes that can break down nitrate into nitrogen can have a long-term benefit toward attenuating the plume.'

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