Curing Metal Pollution with Yeast

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A genetically engineered version of the normal fungus found in your bread and beer may soon be helping to clean-up the environment! A team of Scientists from institutions in Romania and Norway have been working together on a yeast that could help extract from the environment, the heavy metals currently posing a threat to both wildlife and humans.

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The team of scientists is led by Lavinia Liliana Ruta at the University of Bucharest. Recent research conducted by Lavinia and her team has led to positive results where some yeast strains have managed to soak-up 80% of metal ions.

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In a process known as Bioremediation, plants, microbes and/or fungi are used to extract pollutants. Grossly oversimplifying, the genes researchers have developed are made of a cell membrane, a protein, and a metal-binding peptide. Different types of peptides allow the yeast to soak-up different heavy metals (a cysteine peptide for instance best absorbs cadmium and silver).

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In the next few years, the scientists are hoping to refine this new ‘medium’ for environmental clean-up following plenty of rigorous real-world testing. Of course, we are hoping all their promising research will conclude positively. Watch this space!

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