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How is biogeochemistry research being used to protect the environment and us?

Our science question of the month.
November 3, 2017
Sometimes people ask us a question and we try to answer them

Our latest science question.

How is biogeochemistry research being used to protect the environment and us?

Here are a couple of examples.

One way to combat toxins in the environment is to reduce their bioavailability. That means changing them in ways that make them less likely to be taken up by plants and animals. For instance, in the case of mercury, bacteria in low-oxygen environments (such as sediments in estuaries) actually convert mercury into an even more toxic substance: methylmercury. Mercury is a global problem, and it becomes more concentrated (more hazardous) the farther up the food chain it travels. But research is showing that, in the case of the sediments problem, adding a specific mineral converts the mercury into a metallic form so it can’t be taken up by the bacteria and converted into the more toxic compound.

In another example, waste from uranium mining has contaminated nearby groundwater. In this case, already-present bacteria can decontaminate the water by converting the waterborne uranium into a solid, which then sinks into the sediment. Researchers are experimenting with ways to encourage the bacteria’s growth to expedite this conversion.

Sharon Bone, Inorganic Isotope and Actinide Chemistry

Occasionally questions are sent in to edu-bsm@lanl.gov or are left in our feedback box in the Museum.

We work to provide answers to these questions on our blog and the site where we list our favorite questions and answers.