Scientists know little about how these organisms behave in the environment. But Lee Kerkhof, a professor of marine and coastal sciences in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, said that he is optimistic the discovery can have beneficial uses. “There is depleted uranium in a lot of armor-piercing munitions, so places like the Middle East that are experiencing war could be exposed to high levels of uranium in groundwater,” he said.
“After the newly discovered bacteria interact with uranium compounds in water, the uranium becomes immobile. It is no longer dissolved in the groundwater and therefore can’t contaminate drinking water brought to the surface,” Kerkhof said in a statement.
The discovery is described in detail in Public Library of Science One from April 13, 2015. The bacterium that breathes uranium comes from a common strain of bacteria known as betaproteobacteria.