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New bioreactor mops up mercury

RESEARCHERS IN Germany are claiming that a pilot plant using a new type of bioreactor has been used successfully to treat mercury-contaminated wastewater.

Dr Irene Wagner-Dobler and colleagues from the GBF National Research Centre for Biotechnology have used 'biofilms' of bacteria in packed bed bioreactors to treat chemical water containing mercury in a highly toxic form.

The bacteria have a powerful detoxification mechanism that converts mercury to a less toxic, water insoluble metallic form.

Wagner-Dobler presented details of the clean-up technique at the Society for Experimental Biology Meeting in Canterbury last month.

She showed how biofilm communities containing multiple species are more effective than using different strains optimally adapted to the range of mercury concentrations in the contaminated water.

Meanwhile, researchers in the US have developed a synthetic clay which they claim selectively absorbs and traps radium.

In a recent issue of the journal Nature, researchers from Pennsylvania State University say that the new mineral, a form of mica, may be useful in cleaning drinking water containing traces of the naturally occurring radioactive element.

Researchers claim the mineral could remove about 95% of the radium in a salt solution over 24 hours.

The efficiency of the radium removal stems from the clay's selectivity positive ions in the clay exchange themselves for potentially hazardous radium ions.

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