Rutgers biologist wins a $1.03 million, 5 year contract to study how microbes can help clean up Superfund sites

June 21, 2001

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers microbiologist Lily Young has been awarded a $1.03 million five-year contract to investigate how microbes can be used to detoxify arsenic and chromium contaminants at Superfund sites.

Young, a scientist at the university's Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment at the Cook College campus, was awarded the contract by New York University Medical School in New York City, primary contractor for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' (NIEHS) Superfund Basic Research Program. The North Carolina-based NIEHS is part of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md. "The award is just additional recognition of Dr. Young's already impressive credentials and reputation as a microbiologist and researcher," said Peter Day, director of the Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment. "Rutgers is very fortunate to have a scientific investigator of such extraordinary talent."

Rutgers' role in the project, says Young, is to learn how microbes can be managed and used effectively to reduce toxic chemicals to harmless wastes, and ultimately, to develop a process to use the microbes to clean up contaminated sites.

The scientist has long believed that microbes, particularly the anaerobic variety that don't use oxygen to breathe, have been underutilized as a way to eliminate hazardous wastes. These creatures -- which scientists believe pre-date their oxygen-breathing relatives as the first life on earth -- use substances such as nitrates, iron, sulfates and carbonates in place of oxygen. In the process, notes Young, they are able to "metabolize" or eat and reduce contaminants like pesticides and other petrochemicals, turning them into mostly harmless wastes.

With the new funding, the researcher hopes to demonstrate that microbes, mostly bacteria, can have a "profound" impact on the biochemical cycling of the toxic metals arsenic and chromium, as well as petroleum byproducts such as benzene, toluene and xylene often found mixed with the metals in hazardous waste sites.

She also plans to learn which types of bacteria are most effective and the best way to use them. "To what extent do they reduce arsenic and chromium? How rapidly does reduction take place and how much is oxidized or chemically reduced, volatilized or dissolved as a result of bacterial activity?" says Young.

Similar parameters will be used by the researcher to measure how the bacteria affect benzene, toluene and xylene.

Understanding the role of different microbes will be important, says Young since not all are helpful. "While certain bacteria help reduce very toxic chromium 6 to less toxic chromium 3, other bacteria may actually increase toxicity by reducing relatively less toxic arsenic 5 to arsenic 3, a more toxic metal species," she notes.

Young holds a doctorate in environmental microbiology from Harvard University and a master's and bachelor of science in microbiology from Cornell University.

Rutgers University

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.

Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.

Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.

Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.

How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.

The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to