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Scientists Study Bacteria to Save Environment

Researchers at MIT and Harvard University are studying three microscopic bacteria that may provide solutions to some big problems, including global warming and toxic waste.

Each of the three bacteria has unique traits. Prochlorococcus, which performs 20 to 30 percent of ocean photosynthesis, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Pseudomonas has a distinctive ability to handle toxic wastes. Caulobacter can scavenge compounds in low concentrations, and already it is being used for sewage treatment. The team will work to find all the proteins the bacteria make and to understand how they respond to their environments.

Sallie Chisholm, an MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering and biology, says that because these bacteria are so simple and abundant, they make ideal “model cells” that will aid the study of larger ecosystems and higher life forms. A five-year, $15 million grant from the Genomes to Life Program of the U.S. Department of Energy is funding the study.

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Tagged: Biomedicine

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