Scientists from University College London discovered bacteria that can clean up arsenic spills even in previously untreatable cold areas at the Giant Mine in Canada, which is in the sub-Arctic.
The mine contains over 230,000 tonnes of arsenic-containing dust, making it one of the most polluted places on earth. “Water seeps through the mine cracks carrying the arsenic with it as it drips down the walls,” said Thomas Osborne from University College London. “We discovered new types of bacteria living in biofilms on the walls of Giant Mine that consume arsenic compounds contained in the polluted water seeping through.”
“Until now, no bacteria have ever been isolated that can thrive in cold temperatures and deal with arsenic contamination. The new bacteria we discovered function at temperatures from 20 degrees C down as low as 4 degrees C,” said Osborne. “The bacteria live in biofilms, which means they can be used to clear up arsenic pollution in cold areas.”
Osborne said it may also be possible to isolate enzymes from the bacteria and develop an arsenic biosensor that would warn of arsenic escaping from areas like mine workings, industrial chemical facilities, or laboratories.