Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Badwater Basin: Death Valley Microbe May Spark Novel Biotech and Nanotech Uses
Nevada, the "Silver State," is well-known for mining precious metals. But scientists Dennis Bazylinski and colleagues at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) do a different type of mining.
They sluice through every water body they can find, looking for new forms of microbial magnetism.
In a basin named Badwater on the edge of Death Valley National Park, Bazylinski and researcher Christopher Lefèvre hit pay dirt.
Lefèvre is with the French National Center of Scientific Research and University of Aix-Marseille II.
In a recent issue of the journal Science, Bazylinski, Lefèvre and others report that they identified, isolated and grew a new type of magnetic bacteria that could lead to novel biotech and nanotech uses.
Magnetotactic bacteria are simple, single-celled organisms that are found in almost all bodies of water.
As their name suggests, they orient and navigate along magnetic fields like miniature swimming compass needles.
This is due to the nano-sized crystals of the minerals magnetite or greigite they produce.
The presence of these magnetic crystals makes the bacteria and their internal crystals--called magnetosomes--useful in drug delivery and medical imaging.
The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy and the French Foundation for Medical Research.
"The finding is significant in showing that this bacterium has specific genes to synthesize magnetite and greigite, and that the proportion of these magnetosomes varies with the chemistry of the environment," said Enriqueta Barrera, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences.