Algae may be the ultimate mop. Specifically, green algae Closterium moniliferum can isolate Strontium-90, a deadly isotope created by nuclear weapons and reactors. It therefore could potentially be used to clean contaminated land or water, or recycle nuclear fuel. Although the fact has been know for awhile, biologists have revealed in a recent study how the organisms actually do what they do.
In a release by Argonne National Laboratory today, the lead author and PhD candidate at Northwestern University Minna Krejci said that “the difficulty with cleaning up strontium-90 from the environment is that it’s so similar to calcium and barium that scientists even have trouble doing it in the laboratory, with sophisticated equipment.”
Also because of its similarity to calcium, the human skeleton absorbs it instead which can lead to leukemia or cancer.
Krejci, who has a joint appointment at Argonne and Northwestern, and her team found a “sulfate-trap” mechanism in the algae: The organisms control the amount of sulfate in its vacuole, a part of the cell, which in turn sequesters the strontium.
Scientist now need to determine whether the algae are durable and practical for commercial use.
Original article available here.