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Bioremediation study finds bacteria and iron cooperate to clean uranium from water

Since 2009, SLAC scientist John Bargar has led a team using synchrotron-based X-ray techniques to study bacteria that help clean uranium from groundwater in a process called bioremediation. Their initial goal was to discover how the bacteria do it and determine the best way to help, but during the course of their research the team made an even more important discovery: nature thinks bigger than that. 

The researchers discovered that bacteria don’t necessarily go straight for the uranium, as was often thought to be the case. The bacteria make their own, even tinier allies – nanoparticles of a common mineral called iron sulfide. Then, working together, the bacteria and the iron sulfide grab molecules of a highly soluble form of uranium known as U(VI), or hexavalent uranium, and transform them into U(IV), a less-soluble form that's much less likely to spread through the water table. According to Barger, this newly discovered partnership may be the basis of a global geochemical process that forms deposits of uranium ore. 

And it's all done using one of the most basic types of chemical reactions known: oxidation and reduction, commonly known as "redox." Redox reactions can be thought of as the transfer of electrons from donor atoms to atoms that are hungry for electrons, and they are a primary source of chemical energy for both living and non-living processes. Photosynthesis involves redox reactions, as does cell respiration. Iron oxidizes to form rust; batteries depend on redox reactions to store and release energy. 

"Redox transitions are a very fundamental process," Bargar says. "It's the stuff of life. It's how you breathe."

 

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Laboratory Equipment

http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2013/03/bacteria-iron-cooperate-clean-uranium-water-0