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Bioremediator Genome
Jamais Cascio, 7 Jan 05

Wired News and Reuters have details on research done at Cornell analyzing the genome of Dehalococcoides ethenogenes Strain 195, a bacteria able to digest chlorinated solvents. It's currently being used at 17 different locations for toxic waste cleanup. Other strains of the bacteria can process the PCBs and the chemicals underlying DDT. Most interesting is the fact that these bacteria apparently evolved in response to toxic wastes dumped by humans:

In 1997, Cornell University researchers described D. ethenogenes and its ability to clean up chlorinated solvents. Around that same time, DuPont researchers discovered that D. ethenogenes was present at many of their toxic sites. It turns out the bacteria likes to hang out where it can find food, that is, PCE and TCE.

That seems natural until you consider that D. ethenogenes specifically eats PCE and TCE, and the harmful compounds were introduced to the environment only about 60 years ago. The genome sequence suggests that the bacterium has evolved in response to humans dumping the chemicals, Seshadri said.

Sequencing D. ethenogenes DNA should help us (a) better understand how bioremediating bacteria work, (b) figure out ways for them to work more efficiently, and (c) evaluate the possibility of introducing bioremediation capabilities to other organisms.

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This higlights something that many people tend to ignore in their visualisations of the future - the fact that EVOLUTION IS STILL HAPPENING - and no doubt always will. Until that is taken into account in scenarios envisioned for the future we are always going to be playing catch up.

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 8 Jan 05



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