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Study finds new way to clean up radioactive sites, protect radiotherapy patients, astronauts

Date: 29.12.2017 

A new discovery by scientists could aid efforts to clean up radioactive waste sites, and could also help protect military personnel, cancer patients, and astronauts. 
Kredit: US Army Corps of Engineers.

According to a collaborative study, led by researchers at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, published Dec. 20 in PLOS One, "Microbial cells can cooperate to resist high-level chronic ionizing radiation," the team examined growth characteristics of bacteria under high-level continuous gamma radiation. They found radiation-sensitive bacteria, E. coli (Escherichi coli), when mixed with radiation-resistant bacteria, Deinococcus radiodurans, can survive high doses of chronic ionizing radiation.

These findings suggest the Deinococcus bacteria (and also some fungi) – which express high concentrations of antioxidants – could be used as a natural radioprotective probiotic to protect microbes in the intestines of radio- and chemotherapy patients. These unexpected findings also suggest a new tool that could help protect military personnel and astronauts who experience gastrointestinal side effects from high levels of chronic ionizing radiation.

In 2004, it was discovered that radiation-sensitive bacteria were living alongside extremely radiation-resistant bacteria underneath a leaking Cold War radioactive waste tank holding leftovers from the Manhattan Project. The team of scientists at USU sought to better understand this mystery – why it is that, in radioactive waste sites, radiation-sensitive bacteria can survive where only extremely radiation-resistant bacteria usually grow.

Now, with this better understanding of the characteristics of the Deinococcus bacteria, the researchers believe that they could help expedite the clean-up of Cold War radioactive wastes by harnessing the capabilities of other more sensitive microbes.




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