Fungi can ‘detoxify’ depleted uranium

May 6th, 2008 - 4:48 pm ICT by admin  

London, May 6 (IANS) Popular imagination associates fungi with rotting or stale food, least suspecting that it could have some incredible fixing properties. For example, it can fix and detoxify depleted uranium, a lethal wartime residue, by preventing its leaching into plants, animals or water supply, according to a study.

Researchers found that free-living and plant symbiotic (mycorrhizal) fungi can colonise depleted-uranium surfaces and transform the metal into uranyl phosphate minerals.

“The fungal-produced minerals are capable of long-term uranium retention, so this may help prevent uptake of uranium by plants, animals, and microbes,” said Geoffrey Gadd, from the University of Dundee in Scotland.

“Because fungi are perfectly suited as biogeochemical agents, fungal-based approaches should not be neglected in remediation attempts for metal-polluted soils,” said Gadd.

The testing of depleted-uranium ammunition and its recent use in Iraq and the Balkans has contaminated the soil with the unstable metal, Gadd explained.

Depleted uranium is the by-product of uranium enrichment for use in nuclear reactors or nuclear weapons, valued for its high density. Although less radioactive than natural uranium, the depleted version is just as toxic and poses a threat to people.

These findings appeared in Tuesday’s issue of Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press.

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