Fungi can help rein in lead pollution

January 15th, 2012 - 6:00 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 15 (IANS) Fungi can help scientists keep hazardous lead under control by transforming the heavy metal into its most stable mineral form.

Lead is an important industrial material and, as an unfortunate consequence of its popular use in everything from firearms to paint, lead poisoning is a serious problem worldwide.

Early symptoms include depression, loss of appetite, intermittent abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, muscle pain, malaise, fatigue, decreased libido, unusual taste in the mouth, personality changes and sleep problems.

The discovery suggest that this interaction between fungi and lead may be occurring in nature anywhere the two are found together, potentially paving the way to treatment of lead-polluted sites, the journal Current Biology reports.

“Lead is usually regarded as a pretty stable substance,” said Geoffrey Gadd of the University of Dundee. “The idea that fungi and other microbes may attack it and change its form is quite unexpected.”

There have been efforts to contain lead in contaminated soils through the addition of sources of phosphorus, an element that enables the incorporation of lead into a stable pyromorphite mineral (lead chlorophosphate, a mineral occurring in crystalline and massive forms), according to a university statement.

But that change had been considered a purely chemical and physical phenomenon, not a biological one. That is, until now. In the new study, the researchers carefully examined lead shot after it had been incubated with and without fungi.

In the presence of fungi, the lead shot began to show evidence of pyromorphite formation after one month’s time. That stable lead-containing mineral continued to increase in abundance with time.

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