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Useful Bacteria Roundup

August 10, 2007

Scientists are finding novel ways to put bacteria to good use.


A real asphalt jungle. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
The LaBrea Tar Pits of southern California are packed with the fossils of ice age animals that were trapped in them thousands of years ago. But not all of the organisms trapped there died. Some bacteria adapted to the natural asphalt and eventually thrived there. Scientists at the University of California Riverside recently identified a variety of bacteria that live deep inside the tar and use it as a food source. They hope to study the microorganisms and find ways to use them to help clean up oil spills and process petroleum into other useful compounds.
In other useful bacteria news, scientists at Emory have turned microbes into little robots, programmed to navigate their way to chemical targets. Their hope is to engineer the bacteria to carry drugs or break down pollutants, and then train them to swim their way to wherever they’re needed. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.