One of the goals of the DOE’s Genomics:GTL Program is understanding how microbes and microbial communities perform the functions that have helped them thrive in a wide variety of environments and which have applications in the DOE mission areas of bioenergy, carbon cycling and biogeochemistry.
Under the aegis of the GTL Program, the DOE JGI sequenced sulfate-reducing bacteria Desulfovibrio desulfuricans and Desulfovibrio fructosovorans. These bacteria are known for their abilities to break down toxic metal contaminants such as uranium and chromium from groundwater and soil.
The mechanisms and enzymes involved in breaking down these and other metals have been studied by a number of researchers over the years. In the September 2010 issue of Microbiology, researchers from the UK’s University of Birmingham used this accumulated knowledge to develop strains of Escherichia coli that can recover rare metals such as palladium from industrial waste sources. One application for this finite resource is in autocatalytic converters that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the BioPD cells, as the team led by Kevin Deplanche refer to the bacterial cells that recover palladium, could one day be used like microbial fuel cells to generate clean energy.
“Our ultimate aim is to develop a one-step technology that allows for the conversion of metallic wastes into high value catalysts for green chemistry and clean energy generation,” said.