University of Iowa scientists say they’re successfully unlocking the secrets of a type of bacteria that may be used to clean up toxic hazardous waste spills. Dr. David Gibson, a U-of-I professor of microbiology, says bacteria are powered by enzymes, one in particular that’s of interest. Dr. Gibson and his team have isolated the enzyme and determined its three-dimensional structure by x-ray crystalography. With that 3-D structure, researchers can look inside the structure and determine how it works. He says the next step is improving the enzyme and making it do new, useful things. Gibson says similar bacteria have been spread on oil spills. As the bacteria grow, they break up and dispose of the dumped petroleum. He says the bacteria are already in the environment, so you can sprinkle on food and the bacteria will use the food to degrade the petroleum. Gibson says the bacteria may become key in quickly cleaning up oil spills. It also has the potential for helping us clean up polluted groundwater. The research results will appear in the February 14th issue of the journal “Science”.
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