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Arsenic eater stirs hope for Bengal

03 December 2010

NEW DELHI: Scientists have discovered a microbe that can feed on arsenic and accept this toxic element in its proteins and genetic material, challenging long-standing ideas about the chemical recipes for life.

US biologists today announced that they had extracted from a lake-bed in eastern California a never-before-observed bacterium that uses arsenic as a substitute for phosphorus, a key element found in all living organisms.

“This is fascinating,” said Milind Watve, an evolutionary biologist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, who was not associated with the research. “It strikes at a core assumption about the uniformity of the chemistry of life. And it shows that the microbial world may be more diverse than we had imagined,” Watve told The Telegraph.

Some scientists are speculating that such arsenic-eating bacteria may be used in future — if proven safe and economical — to combat the arsenic contamination of groundwater, widespread in Bengal and Bangladesh.

……..“This is exciting because phosphorus is a crucial element for key processes that occur inside living cells,” said Sisinthy Shivaji, a senior scientist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

“We now have to ask how these processes occur with arsenic in place of phosphorus,” said Shivaji, who five years ago had discovered two species of arsenic-resistant bacteria in groundwater from Chakdah district in Bengal.

How arsenic infiltrates bio-molecules, and the mechanisms through which such molecules operate, remain unknown, the US researchers have said in their paper.

“Such microbes are certainly interesting for basic biology, but arsenic clean-up is a possible application that comes to mind,” said Vidyanand Nanjundiah, an evolutionary biologist at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

“I’ll only be speculating for now, but if such a microbe can be grown easily and if it is safe, it could be used in bio-filters to remove arsenic from contaminated groundwater,” Nanjundiah said…

Read more: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1101203/jsp/frontpage/story_13253120.jsp

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Written by csirindia

December 3, 2010 at 9:19 am

Posted in CCMB

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