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Bacteria Used To Make Radioactive Metals Inert

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the a-million-and-one-uses dept.

Biotech 237

Serenissima writes "Researcher Judy Wall is experimenting with bacteria that can cleanse the radioactivity from toxic areas by rendering the heavy metals into non-toxic, inert versions. The technology is not without its flaws (the bacteria can't exist in an oxygenated environment yet), but it does have the potential to cleanse some of the world's hazardous sites. From the article: 'The bacteria Wall is studying are bio-corrosives and can change the solubility of heavy metals. They can take uranium and convert it to uraninite, a nearly insoluble substance.'"

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237 comments

Look out, Radioactive Man! (1, Offtopic)

Jubetas (917500) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380337)

What about my dreams of superhero-dom, you insensitive clods!?

Re:Look out, Radioactive Man! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29380409)

Bacteria...is there anything it can't do.....

Re:Look out, Radioactive Man! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29380469)

can it turn a nigger white? because even a pile of dog shit eventually turns white and stops stinking (it really does)

Re:Look out, Radioactive Man! (4, Funny)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380775)

White? Please... before long your gonna have real options. White? I mean...why be white when you can be blue? or green? or red? Or.... you could have mood skin! Maybe a little glow in the dark anyone? Sure there may be a few side effects, maybe it wil destroy your liver in 3 years and make your thyroid go hypractive if you survive beyond that but.... the possibilities for matching with your ipod will never be greater.

-Steve

Re:Look out, Radioactive Man! (1)

darthdavid (835069) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381369)

I use a Zune you insensitive clod! Brown for me...

Re:Look out, Radioactive Man! (1)

Retric (704075) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380643)

Don't worry, they might make the stuff chemically inert, but it's still radioactive.

Re:Look out, Radioactive Man! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29380725)

Wow, was that spectacularly unfunny...

If atoms can be classically described as spheres.. (1)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381087)

The balls are inert because of the bacteria.

Change the solubility of heavy metals (4, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380339)

The bacteria Wall is studying are bio-corrosives and can change the solubility of heavy metals.

So... they can convert heavy metal into liquid metal? How long until we can buy that on iTunes?

Re:Change the solubility of heavy metals (4, Funny)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380505)

Forget iTunes! How long before this stuff is walking around killing people and looking like Robert Patrick?!

Re:Change the solubility of heavy metals (1)

cthulu_mt (1124113) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381123)

I'd rather it looked like Kristina Loken.

Re:Change the solubility of heavy metals (1)

IcyNeko (891749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381191)

Come with me if you want to live.

Re:Change the solubility of heavy metals (4, Informative)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380561)

Other way around... they want to make the metals insoluble so they won't contaminate water sources.

Re:Change the solubility of heavy metals (2, Informative)

sonnejw0 (1114901) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380977)

Yes, by adding aliphatic hydrocarbons to the core metal ion. (Except it's liquid to heavy)

Interesting (2, Interesting)

al0ha (1262684) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380341)

This seems like it might prove useful. Now, when will they invent bacteria that can clean the dust from my computer? That would be really useful!

Re:Interesting (4, Funny)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380363)

I think the thousands of mites already crawling around in there probably do that job. Unfortunately, you wind up with mite poop.

        Brett

Re:Interesting (4, Funny)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380465)

I think the Chinese Needle Snakes can take care of that problem for you.

Re:Interesting (4, Funny)

SgtPepperKSU (905229) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380573)

And the gorillas will take care of the snakes...

The best part: when wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29381211)

You can litter train them to all poo in a tiny box.

Then you place it in your boss's lunch.

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29381095)

I'm waiting for them to invent dust that will clean all the bacteria from my computer.

Chemically inert, they mean (5, Insightful)

Urban Garlic (447282) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380355)

The article is light on details, but at least it's not as dumb as it sounds. The bacteria can sequester the heavy metals into chemically inert compounds, which can then be separated mechanically ("settle to the bottom of a lake") from the environment.

They don't appear to be claiming that they have a biological process that can change the half-life of a Plutonium atom by eating it in a clever way, though the headline-writer may have thought that.

Misleading headline (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380545)

Well a confusing headline... 1st thought is "bacteria convert radioactive into non-radioactive?!?". Ofcourse not. 2nd thought was they concentrate the stuff into a form that can easily be separated from other materials - nope. It's about turning the stuff into something that doesn't go anywhere besides where it's already at. Similar in purpose to melting radioactive material into a block of glass-like material.

which can then be separated mechanically ("settle to the bottom of a lake") from the environment.

Maybe I'm misreading the article, but where does it say about cleanup? All I'm reading is improving a way to keep the stuff from polluting a larger area.

Re:Misleading headline (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380833)

Maybe I'm misreading the article, but where does it say about cleanup? All I'm reading is improving a way to keep the stuff from polluting a larger area.

It's inferred. And likely a big part of the grant proposal. But the general idea is to take $soluble_nasty + $bacterial_overlord to get $insoluble_nasty and then either sequester the $insoluble_nasty or do something simple like bulldoze it out (and put it somewhere else). If you can concentrate it in a less toxic form, you make clean up either much easier or less necessary.

But they have a ways go before we're sprinkling pixie dust on old uranium mines and expecting to come back a couple of years later and put a McDonald's on it.

Re:Misleading headline (1)

Aphoxema (1088507) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381157)

I wonder if uraniumite is ferrous...

Re:Misleading headline (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381305)

Actually, you mean it's "implied". You infer, someone else implies.

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380547)

As usual the summary is at best hopelessly misleading.

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (2, Interesting)

ArbitraryDescriptor (1257752) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380649)

FTA:

hey can take uranium and convert it to uraninite, a nearly insoluble substance that will sink to the bottom of a lake or stream. Wall is looking into ... how long the changed material would remain inert.

Emphasis mine. It sounds to me that the bacteria are just converting the top layer into a uraninite shell; which insulates the radioactive material? "Nearly insoluble" suggests that it will eventually be broken down by the water, exposing the hot core once again.

Am I reading this correctly? If so, it would seem a method of grinding the material to dust and feeding it into vats/barrels in an O2 free environment might lead to a more permanent solution. Granted, this dust is probably just as dangerous from an inhalation/water contamination perspective...

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (1)

Garridan (597129) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380681)

Sounds to me like "can't survive an oxygenated environment" is a bit of a boon. It can't really do the "grey goo" thing if it can't survive in oxygen.

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (4, Informative)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380749)

Yup, doesn't change radioactivity at all. Despite heavy metal toxicity being a far bigger problem in terms of actual, real-world pollution, it just doesn't have the attention-grabbing aspects that radiation does.

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (-1, Troll)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380787)

They don't appear to be claiming that they have a biological process that can change the half-life of a Plutonium atom by eating it in a clever way, though the headline-writer may have thought that.

Well, that's the issue. I've been researching this for about 2.4 centuries now and that means I have a pretty good understanding of the process. Now, I don't want to make your head 'asplode, so I'll nutshell it:

The bacteria eat the radioactive materials. The bacteria fart. A LOT. The radioactive material is released into our atmosphere, causing things like acid rain, seasonal allergens to reach all-time high levels, Britney Spears, MLS All-Star games.

The solution, as always, is Beano(R)

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380791)

chemically non-toxic != non-radioactive

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (3, Insightful)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380861)

They don't appear to be claiming that they have a biological process that can change the half-life of a Plutonium atom by eating it in a clever way, though the headline-writer may have thought that.

The headline writer did think that, and by failing to correct that(probably obvious) misconception these researchers are effectively claiming just that.

This might sound unfair, but it's really very simple. If a reporter comes to ask you about your research, and comes away printing something totally inaccurate or just completely wrong then that is your fault. You invited them in, you gave them the rope, showed them how to knot it. Why should you complain when they inevitably hang themselves and you in the process.

Researchers should either write their own press releases or else not bother talking to the press at all. In fact, I recommend the latter. Most research is too technical to have a hope of garnering media attention with "embellishing" it, and once you start doing that you've stopped doing honest research and have moved on to dishonest peddling. You've stopped dealing in the facts and have moved on to anti-facts.

Once, once again, this is all in Feynman's Cargo Cult Science speech. Here's the passage relevant to our discussion

I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of this work were. "Well," I said, "there aren't any." He said, "Yes, but then we won't get support for more research of this kind." I think that's kind of dishonest. If you're representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you're doing--and if they don't want to support you under those circumstances, then that's their decision.

This speech is 35 years old. When are people going to start paying attention to it?

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (2, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381219)

I agree with the concept, but I don't know if I am ready to toss recriminations. Yes, it is indeed the job of a scientist to both publish his work, and to try and shoot holes in it and show how he might be wrong. He should be honest as to what it really means (if cosmologists are bad on this front, look at a science where money is more heavily mixed in like pharmacology or other medical sciences and you can see this problem is rampant to the point that you wonder how they have any credibility left).

However, you can't always be sure that your meaning is understood by everyone. Have you never had someone do something other than what you wanted and claim that its what you asked of them? I just had an issue this past day where I told someone I had to check on something to see if I could help him, and he only heard "yea I want to help". Is that my fault that he ran off and made commitments himself based on me helping him? I told him 3 times I wasn't sure if I even could.

Sometimes, despite best efforts to prevent them, misunderstandings happen.

-Steve

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (1)

divisionbyzero (300681) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381331)

Sounds like their research needs funding.

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29381335)

This might sound unfair, but it's really very simple. If a reporter comes to ask you about your research, and comes away printing something totally inaccurate or just completely wrong then that is your fault. You invited them in, you gave them the rope, showed them how to knot it. Why should you complain when they inevitably hang themselves and you in the process.

So interviewees are responsible for every downstream article? That's ridiculous. We see here a summary about an article about a press release. Nobody knows how far upstream the scientists actually are.

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (5, Informative)

Ardeaem (625311) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381405)

Researchers should either write their own press releases or else not bother talking to the press at all.

I don't think you understand how this works at all. The researchers do research. The University has people on staff that are paid to publicize research. They try to understand the research as best they can. Then, they publicize it, trying to get the research all over the place, and THEY contact the press. If you are lucky (or unlucky, actually - it is a waste of time) the press may talk to you. The researchers are often several steps away from the reporters that report on it. I say this as a researcher who had research that I did at the University of Missouri (the university in question here) publicized, so I know how this works.

The process is pretty much completely beyond your control as a researcher. If the University wants to publicize your research, and they're going to do it regardless of what you say. You can't just not talk to your own university about your research.

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (0, Redundant)

canonymous (1445409) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381103)

Seriously, why not just say it can make heavy metals non-toxic, since the process works equally well for the non-radioactive versions.

Oh right, sensationalism.

Re:Chemically inert, they mean (1)

jacktherobot (1538645) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381215)

It sounds like this might be a bad thing. I'm no mining engineer, but you might be able to flush a mine with water and then use this bacteria to efficiently extract uranium from the resulting water-uranium slurry.

Non-Toxic inert? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380371)

So what are we after here, non-toxicity or non radioactive.

They are still radioactive, but containment might be somewhat easier because they are inert seems to be the major claim here.

This sounds a little like painting the DANGER sign green. Its not clear to me that the major problem with containment was the reactivity of the isotopes, but rather their radioactivity.

Re:Non-Toxic inert? (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380473)

There are two main reasons that you'd be concerned about chemical properties. One is just that a fair number of exciting radioisotopes are also chemically unpleasant. The second is that the chemical properties determine, in large part, how easy it is to keep the substance contained. An insoluble and largely unreactive material will be fine even if the barrel leaks a bit. A corrosive and water soluble material will make the barrel leak a bit and then start leaching into the water table. Radiation is bad; but isolating small areas of intense radioactivity is fairly easy. Isolating large areas of modest radioactivity that has a nasty habit of getting in the drinking water and being incorporated into your bones is quite difficult.

If a bacterial process can economically neutralize the material and induce it to stay where it is, rather than dissolving and floating around, that would make the problem smaller.

Re:Non-Toxic inert? (2, Interesting)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381113)

The two methods most commonly proposed that I'm aware of currently to do this are through pebble bed reactors which keep all the radioactive material inside insoluble carbon shells and glassification which embeds the material in insoluble silica for relatively safe disposal.

Just a couple other areas of research for those interested.

Re:Non-Toxic inert? (5, Informative)

meerling (1487879) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380521)

I'm no where near an expert on this stuff, but my understanding is that the big change is a soluble nasty material is made non-soluble.

In other words, that really nasty stuff likes to dissolve in water and spread everywhere, especially into the water table.

They want to make it not do that, so it's in a contained area, and might even be possible to extract it, or at least stopping it from making everything within a huge area into Chernobyl Nitelights.

I actually worked at a place that had to monitor this kind of stuff.
Previous owners had 'disposed' of contaminated materials by buying them.
Ironically, it wasn't the buried stuff that was the greatest risk factor to us.

I'm sure most of you, including icebike, probably understand this, but it seemed the perfect chunk of thread to post this. :)

Re:Non-Toxic inert? (1)

meerling (1487879) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380539)

I'm being a rotten speller again.
"buying" should be "burying"...

Re:Non-Toxic inert? (3, Funny)

yurtinus (1590157) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380909)

Oh... I thought you were talking about the banking crisis again.

Re:Non-Toxic inert? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380587)

The example they give is a uranium mine. In that case, I doubt the uranium bits laying around are any more dangerous due to radioactivity than they were before they were mined. The problem seems to be that disturbing the stuff has broken it into small enough bits to be dissolved in the local water. Binding the uranium into an insoluble compound would be very handy.

Re:Non-Toxic inert? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380757)

Is uranium water soluble?

My understanding was that uranium was not, irradiated uranium grains have been intact for over a billion years. [nrc-cnrc.gc.ca]

Uranium oxide (UO2) is slightly soluble. (same source).

So this discovery seems not aimed at Uranium waste management, but perhaps at medical waste.

Re:Non-Toxic inert? (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380911)

Is uranium water soluble?

Is iron (II/III) water soluble?

Re:Non-Toxic inert? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381199)

Apparently it's enough to be a concern in some places. Note that uranium exists as oxides in nature. It oxidizes quite quickly when exposed to the air.

Perhaps the problem is with uranium dust that is partially dissolved and partially suspended in the water.

radioactive bacteria (4, Funny)

pwizard2 (920421) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380373)

What happens when the radiation mutates the bacteria? Single-celled organisms mutate very easily, and we could easily have a serious problem on our hands if the bacteria turn into something that is dangerous to us and then multiply out of control.

Re:radioactive bacteria (3, Funny)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380439)

What happens when the radiation mutates the bacteria? Single-celled organisms mutate very easily, and we could easily have a serious problem on our hands if the bacteria turn into something that is dangerous to us and then multiply out of control.

Scientists already know that whenever this happens, Godzilla awakens from his slumber, tussles with the creature, eventually righting mankind's wrongs through violence, and then torches part of Tokyo before returning peacefully to the sea for another year. I don't know what you're so worried about.

Re:radioactive bacteria (2, Funny)

Farmer Tim (530755) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380807)

I don't know what you're so worried about.

The Keith Emerson soundtrack [godzillamonstermusic.com] .

Re:radioactive bacteria (1)

Snarkalicious (1589343) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380441)

Whatever, nerd. We've got Benjamin Bratt to defend us.

Re:radioactive bacteria (1, Insightful)

Whalou (721698) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380443)

What happens when the radiation mutates the bacteria?

Movies will be made.

Re:radioactive bacteria (2, Interesting)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380501)

for most transuranic elements, their chemical toxicity is far more lethal than the radiation hazard they possess.

Re:radioactive bacteria (1)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380503)

What happens when the radiation mutates the bacteria? Single-celled organisms mutate very easily

Bacteria do a pretty good job of mutating all by themselves. Just because some mutations were induced by radiation doesn't make them any more (or less) likely to result in something dangerous to us.

and we could easily have a serious problem on our hands if the bacteria turn into something that is dangerous to us and then multiply out of control.

You've seen too many bad science fiction movies.

Obligatory... (4, Funny)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380575)

I, for one, welcome our radioactive bacteria overlords!

Re:radioactive bacteria (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380597)

Because the bacteria currently crawling all over the uranium mine aren't just as (un)likely to spontaneously mutate into miniature brain sucking Godzillas.

Re:radioactive bacteria (1)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380599)

Most of the other respondents to the parent have ridiculed the post along the lines of "you've seen too many science fiction movies." While this is probably the case for most slashdotters, surely turning radioactive elements in humans into inert compounds would be a bad thing... Don't we need our radioactive carbon while we're alive? If so, then the bacteria probably should remain only viable in non-oxygen environments (assuming the human body has enough O around it and in it to prevent anaerobic bacteria from living).

Re:radioactive bacteria (1)

NotBornYesterday (1093817) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381019)

Don't we need our radioactive carbon while we're alive?

No.

It makes archeology easier, because C14 makes it easier to date old things we pull out of the ground, but our metabolisms don't run on radiation.

Re:radioactive bacteria (5, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380633)

I have an exercise for you.

Find me a species, mutated by radiation, that subsequently became dangerous to human beings. Anything at all. I don't care what kingdom, genus, family, what-have-you; anything from a virus to an animal. Harmless before, was mutated, now dangerous. Should be easy, with such a broad mandate - there has to be at least one example that will serve to support your point, right?

Nope. While there are plenty of deadly lifeforms on this planet, mutation via exposure to radiation does not make them deadlier. Conversely, overuse of antibiotics (to give one example) has made bacteria deadlier, or at least harder to cure.

"Mutation" is one of those idiot words - it has a very specific meaning in biology, one that has no resemblance to the way non-biologists habitually use it. Most mutations are detrimental to the organisms survival. The only circumstances under which this is not the case is where the mutation occurs in conjunction with selection pressure that favours the mutant. Bacteria, even parasitic ones, do not benefit from being deadly - lethality is not a survival trait for pathogens.

You've been getting your biology from Hollywood.

Re:radioactive bacteria (1)

ChrisMounce (1096567) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381083)

Zombies.

And by the way, my knowledge of biology is not from Hollywood. It's from the Internet! [archive.org]

Re:radioactive bacteria (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29381195)

A few years ago I was watching a documentation about some native pearl diver on one of those atolls(Bikini Atoll?) that later were used for nuclear weapons tests.
He remembered how he used to dive with the (small) sharks and fish and how they used to be tame enough to pet them. But after the tests they became rabid and hyper-aggressive.

Although that's technically not mutation I guess.

Re:radioactive bacteria (5, Interesting)

Chazerizer (934553) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381323)

You scoff at the above poster, but there are (non-lethal) mutations possible that could make these particular bacteria more dangerous to people. A single mutation causes an amino acid change in the protein that converts uranium to uranite. Now, instead of uranium, it binds phosphorus (or calcium, or ferrous ions, or whatever) because its pore size is different. Instead of removing uranium for the water, it now creates large, insoluble phosphorus deposits. Even if the remaining bacteria remove the uranium, you are still left with a completely unlivable ecosystem for micro-organisms (and higher life forms which feed on them, and so on), because basic nutrients are in extremely short supply. In essence, you've traded one barren landscape for another, and that just fails to help anyone. This isn't a terribly likely scenario. 99.999% of mutations are likely to be either fatal to the microorganisms or irrelevant. On the other hand, if a group of bacteria are exposed to 10^m photons of gamma radiation...I'm guessing at least a few beneficial, non-desirable mutations could occur. They won't turn the microbes into the blob, but they could end up causing some very non-desirable effects.

Re:radioactive bacteria (1, Interesting)

LanMan04 (790429) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381327)

Find me a species, mutated by radiation, that subsequently became dangerous to human beings. Anything at all. I don't care what kingdom, genus, family, what-have-you; anything from a virus to an animal. Harmless before, was mutated, now dangerous. Should be easy, with such a broad mandate - there has to be at least one example that will serve to support your point, right?

Uh, lions? T-Rex? panthers?

I understand what you're getting at, but most (all?) extant species that are dangerous to humans were (a) not dangerous to humans at some point in their history (300mya, or whatever), and (b) were mutated by radiation at *some* point in the past. Not sure how prevalent radiation-induced mutation is compared to transcription-based ones, but it can't be 0.

Sorry, just picking nits. :)

Re:radioactive bacteria (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381407)

I have one for you: OTHER HUMANS.

*TADAAA*

Did I win something? ;)

Re:radioactive bacteria (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380993)

Single-celled organisms mutate very easily, and we could easily have a serious problem on our hands if the bacteria turn into something that is dangerous to us and then multiply out of control.

They already multiply rapidly. There is in fact only one control on their numbers: availability of food. That's a big barrier that isn't going to be overcome with an increased mutation rate: they already mutate so rapidly that the increased presence of radiation probably won't significantly change things. In fact, if anything it will probably limit their numbers for a short time. They only have one chromesome, if a vital gene gets damaged they have no backup. They also generally have less machinery devoted to repair than we do. They're generally far more sensitive to radiation and UV light because of that. As you probably are aware, the vast majority of mutations have bad effects. Also most bacteria aren't parasitic, these ones probably won't bother with humans.

They might mutate faster and might acquire some characteristics they wouldnt' if they weren't in a radioactive environment. It's conceivable they might over time develop characters that would enable them to feast on human flesh. In all likelyhood though, the only way that would arise is if it were an advantage. The only way it would be an advantage is if they COULD feed on human flesh. Don't go swimming consistently in these irradiated environments where the bacteria are working and they probably won't learn to eat you. And that's in your advantage anyway, since these are irradiated environments.

Re:radioactive bacteria (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381401)

What happens when the radiation mutates the bacteria? Single-celled organisms mutate very easily, and we could easily have a serious problem on our hands if the bacteria turn into something that is dangerous to us and then multiply out of control.

Take the pre-emptive approach, like me: I, for one, welcome our mutant radioactive material-inerting bacterial overlords!

Uraninite? (1)

Red4man (1347635) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380379)

We're fucked if they change any radioactive material into Mooninites.

Misleading (1, Insightful)

PvtVoid (1252388) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380383)

Jeez, what a terrible article, and an equally terrible summary. Both make it sound like the bacteria make the metals nonradioactive, which of course is absurd. (Nuclear bacteria?) The bacteria just make the metals insoluble. They're still radioactive.

Re:Misleading (2, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380903)

The problem is the submitter and editor thought folks at slashdot would know what "inert" [wikipedia.org] means. Obviously, you and a few others didn't.

In chemistry, the term inert is used to describe something that is not chemically active. The noble gases were described as being inert because they did not react with the other elements or themselves. It is now understood that the reason that inert gases are completely inert to basic chemical reactions (such as combustion, for example) is that their outer valence shell is completely filled with electrons. With a filled outer valence shell, an inert atom is not easily able to acquire or lose an electron, and is therefore not able to participate in any chemical reactions. For inert substances, a lot of energy is required before they can combine with other elements to form compounds. High temperatures and pressure are usually necessary, sometimes requiring the presence of a catalyst.

For example, elemental nitrogen is inert under standard room conditions and exists as a diatomic molecule, N2. The inertness of nitrogen is due to the presence of the very strong triple covalent bond in the N2 molecule; nitrogen gas can, however, react to form compounds such as lithium nitride (Li3N) under standard conditions.

Inert atmospheres of gases such as nitrogen and argon are routinely used in chemical reactions where air sensitive and water sensitive compounds are handled.

"Inert" has absolutely nothing whatever to do with radioactivity, even though radioactive materials may or may not be inert.

Re:Misleading (1, Insightful)

PvtVoid (1252388) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381129)

The problem is the submitter and editor thought folks at slashdot would know what "inert" means. Obviously, you and a few others didn't..."Inert" has absolutely nothing whatever to do with radioactivity, even though radioactive materials may or may not be inert.

Chemically inert would have been perfectly clear. The word "inert" has a broader meaning in common usage than this narrow technical definition, being a synonym for inactive [reference.com] .

But you do get extra points for being snotty and pedantic.

Any space application? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29380391)

The technology is not without it's flaws (the bacteria can't exist in an oxygenated environment yet), but it does have the potential to cleanse some of the world's hazardous sites.

I hear that there's no oxygen in space. As opposed to dumping this stuff from your spacecraft, are there any nifty uses for these safer substances like uraninite?

Hm, Wikipedia says the stuff is similar to lead. [wikipedia.org] Maybe use it as a kinetic projectile material to shoot junk out of your way? Maybe insulation?

real estate (3, Funny)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380397)

So what they're really saying is they've got a great deal on Ukranian real estate that we don't want to miss out on?

Oh, and I for one welcome our uranium-eating overlords.

For those who don't RTFA... (5, Informative)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380407)

Of course they are not actually changing radioactive materials to non-radioactive materials - they change the compounds containing uranium to compunds that are very weakly soluble in water (instead of highly soluble), so they don't migrate easily. Very useful, but a little different from the impression I got from the summary.

      Brett

Bad article title (5, Insightful)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380425)

<science-nitpickery>

"Bacteria Used To Make Radioactive Metals Inert" implies that the bacteria are making radioactive metals non-radioactive. A better title might be "Bacteria Used to make Poisonous Heavy Metals Inert," or "Bacteria Turn Radioactive Heavy Metals Into Chemically Inert Radioactive Stuff That Is Easier To Clean Up."

</science-nitpickery>

Re:Bad article title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29380685)

The only science-related definition of "inert" speaks to chemistry, not radioactivity. The thesaurus does not give any antonyms to "radioactive". Plus, as a layman I've never heard of "inert" as a synonym for nonradioactive. So, if "inert" is science jargon that can mean nonradioactive, then your nitpick doesn't apply here (unlike the pedantry you and I are both exhibiting).

All that said, I do actually agree that the headline should have been more accurate if less terse.

:)

Re:Bad article title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29380845)

Heh... Pedantry can be fun...as we're seeing here...

Inert: adjective

1. having no inherent power of action, motion, or resistance (opposed to active ): inert matter.

2. Chemistry. having little or no ability to react, as nitrogen that occurs uncombined in the atmosphere.

3. Pharmacology. having no pharmacological action, as the excipient of a pill.

4. inactive or sluggish by habit or nature.

I believe you will find definition #1 applies here and in most cases for the use of the adjective "inert"- #2, the one you refer to, is merely being specific about it as one's still valid for that case as well. Just because you've never heard it used does not lead to it being inappropriate as you imply.

Re:Bad article title (2, Funny)

mooingyak (720677) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380937)

Or, as 'Ert' is a nickname my sister gave me, 'inert' generally refers to hamburgers and beer.

Re:Bad article title (3, Insightful)

Zantac69 (1331461) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380689)

The dissolved uranium is reduced to uranite (incidently a common ore that is mined for uranium) inside the bacterial bodies. So in nature, they "eat" dissolved uranium, it accumulates in their bodies, they die, the bodies settle, the bodies decompose leaving uranite. Do that for long enough and you have uranite deposits...much how bacteria oxidized the dissolved iron in the oceans to remove it from solution.

Does this make everything safe? No - just makes it easier to clean up since if can separate the bacteria from the contaminated water.

So dont get too excited.

Re:Bad article title (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29381189)

Inert chemically (not reactive).

Heavy metals such as plutonium has a long decay period and are more dangerous from the chemical reactions they induce (replacing iron and calcium in the body) than by the mere radio activity.

Radioactive heavy metals tend to evaporate easily (sublimation) just like iodine. Cleaning the fission or fusion by-products is complicated because common organisms are not used to them. The novelty is that some organisms can make the waste less dangerious and even use it for sustaining life
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061019192814.htm

Now this is exciting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29380451)

When most people talk about halflife they don't realize the metals themselves are among the most toxic substances even stone cold with no significant radiation. Rendering them into a non-toxic form is huge. It gives hope for a true clean up of sites. Next magical trick is getting some one to take responsibility for actually doing the clean up.

Bad summary (1)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380509)

Summary says it "cleanses the radioactivity". No it doesn't. The bacteria makes the metal inert *chemically*.

Depends on what you mean by cleanse (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380585)

True, it does not change the overall radioactivity, but by making the metal nearly insoluble, the precipitated solid can be handled easier. It's also easier to landfill.

Re:Bad summary (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380627)

True. It also says they render "heavy metals into non-toxic, inert versions", which is incorrect. It reduces contamination by removing the metals, but it doesn't make them any less toxic.

Re:Bad summary (3, Informative)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380865)

Yes, it does. Toxicity relates to chemical reactivity, not to radiation. If it's non-toxic, it won't contaminate your body... it'll be passed through like any other waste material.

Re:Bad summary (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381023)

It converts it to uranium dioxide [wikipedia.org] , and while you're technically correct in saying that an inert material should be non-toxic, it isn't necessarily always the case.

I for one ... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29380579)

... welcome our new radioactive bacteria overlords.

Except, it doesn't make a bit of difference... (1)

andrewd18 (989408) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380635)

Except, it doesn't make a bit of difference, guys. The balls are inert.

Can we drop this on Iran? Hehe! (1)

jxm1 (1476601) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380727)

In some ways this could change the debate about nuclear power and long-term waste storage. Should be interesting to see how this plays out. Wait around long enough and technology will usually shift and fold any issue.

And then what? (1)

Tarlus (1000874) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380809)

So then we end up with... Radioactive bacteria? =)

Evil scientist picture (2, Funny)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 4 years ago | (#29380975)

First, let me congratulate the woman in the picture for the article. That picture is just a 100% spot on for Mad Scientist. The huge arms, the vials, the strange lighting, - perfect.

Second, this article is REALLY short on facts. The least it could have done is explain exactly what the difference was between the dangerous and the safe uranium. A simple molecular formula comparison would have been very helpfull. Plus they should have told us WHY it was safe. Something along the lines of 'this molecule tastes horrible to other bacteria', as opposed to just leaving us hanging.

Re:Evil scientist picture (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29381127)

I agree with you that it is a great picture, but as one who works with Dr. Judy Wall I can attest that she is definitely not the mad scientist type. The photographer put the camera inside an anaerobic chamber and then placed a blue background behind her outside the chamber to get the desired effect. Huge shame that the article was written by an idiot at the News Bureau and not by an actual scientist who could explain Judy's work.

Radiation-immune bacteria? (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381015)

Or how do the bacteria survive in this environment?

(I for one welcome our radioactive, mutated metal-disassembling bacteria overlords!)

Re:Radiation-immune bacteria? (4, Insightful)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381207)

The public perception of radiation is the best example that humans are generally stupid, and that stupidity has to be beaten out of them using blunt instruments. The Fallout games, Hulk, Spider-Man, etc. are NOT fact-based. They do NOT depict actual effects of radiation. Those are FAIRY TALES. There is no such thing as a Chinese syndrome. The nuclear power industry is not comspiring to destroy the world. Animals do not turn into monsters when heavily irradiated, they die! People do not turn into ghouls or zombies when heavily irradiated, they die as well! Please repeat this 100 times.

Now to answer this question, here is an example of a very radiation-resistant bacteria:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deinococcus_radiodurans [wikipedia.org]

Insoluble ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29381141)

Heck, I had to look that up in the dictonary... So which is it ? :
1. that cannot be dissolved
2. that cannot be solved; insolvable
3. that cannot be explained; mysterious or inexplicable

Meh. Give me critters from Forward's Camelot 30K. (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381147)

I don't insist on creatures that can actually alter the half-life of radioisotopes. Just ones that ingest them, do isotopic separation, and excrete the separated isotopes into segregated containers. We can let the uranium and hydrogen/deuterium separators drive the economy, with all the other separators running as boutique suppliers.

DBZ did it first. (1)

the2cheat (986144) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381183)

Insert 'The Balls are Inert' joke here.

interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29381221)

they had this on Eureka on one of the episodes, it kept on growing like the blob and was threatening to eat its way through the town.

Mercury (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381299)

Since TFA and TFS fail with regards to radiation, what about mercury?

Spray some of these bad boys on the lining of tuna cans and such?

Now the only problem left is... (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29381329)

...the missing link in the food chain up to the gorilla, who will then freeze in winter.

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