One of the most common types of environmental contaminants, especially in groundwater, is chlorinated solvents. Often used as degreasing agents or for dry cleaning, these compounds have toxic properties and contaminate more than 50,000 groundwater sites throughout North America. Studies have identified several microbial species that can break down these compounds and harness the energy for their own uses. The most studied dechlorinating organisms are from the Dehalococcoides genus. Some chlorinating organisms have been shown to inhibit the growth of a second group of dehalorespiring organisms – these break down chlorinated ethanes and ethenes – known as Dehalobacter.
In sequencing Dehalobacter organisms, DOE JGI will provide a reference genome that lends insight into the physiology of this anaerobic group. Additionally the Dehalobacter sequence is being studied within the context of a microbial community, allowing researchers to study the group dynamics involved and apply the knowledge gained toward for cleaning up contaminated sites. Current practices, such as filtering out contaminants, may take years to clean up groundwater sites. Using bacteria to break down the contaminants and then rely on the compounds as a food source could offer a faster and more cost-effective clean-up method that also has less impact on the environment.
Principal Investigators: Elizabeth Edwards, University of Toronto
Program: CSP 2010