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Fungi vs. Lead

February 7, 2012

Fungi could be a new weapon against lead pollution.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Lead-fighting fungi…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Lead is highly toxic and can damage the developing nervous system. Fortunately, many countries have banned its use in paint and gasoline. But old lead mines and industrial sites can still leach the heavy metal into waterways and the food chain. Now, scientists say fungi may offer a new way to clean up lead-polluted sites.

Microbiologist Geoffrey Gadd of the University of Dundee in Scotland and his colleagues discovered that when lead is exposed to fungi, a highly stable mineral called pyromorphite results.

GEOFFREY GADD (University of Dundee, Scotland):

The more insoluble a compound is, the more stable it is; and almost no lead is released from this substance if put in water.

HIRSHON:

He says until now, it was thought that only non-biological processes formed the mineral.

GADD:

As a biologist, I like to demonstrate that’s there’s more to life than just physical and chemical forces.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.