Deinococcus radiodurans: that’s the name given to a reddish spherical bacteria first isolated in 1956 by Arthur W. Anderson, a professor of microbiology at Oregon State University. This tiny microbe can survive in extreme conditions including a lack of nutrients, variations in pH, drought, and high temperatures. It can even live in a vacuum!
Did you know? Deinococcus radiodurans can tolerate incredibly high radiation doses, earning itself a place in the Guinness World Records book as the “most radiation resistant life form” on earth.
The ability to survive such extreme conditions is due to its sophisticated DNA repair mechanism. This organism carries between four and 10 copies of its genome (entire genetic material) whereas most other organisms, including humans, carry only one copy. These extra genomes may allow the bacterium to recover a complete copy of its genome after it has been exposed to radiation.
Did you know? A genome contains all of the biological information required to build and maintain a living organism.
Due to its unique properties, researchers have been looking into the possibility of using D. radiodurans to clean up contaminated waste sites. Why? Well, on one hand we have this tiny organism which has a remarkable ability to withstand very high doses of radiation and can survive in extremely harsh environments; and, on the other hand we have radiation-sensitive microbes that have an ability to detoxify a variety pollutants.
Applying genetic engineering, scientists have inserted genes from toxin degrading bacteria into D. radiodurans. The result has been radiation resistant strains of D. radiodurans that could potentially be used at radioactive waste sites to degrade pollutants and toxins of all kinds without suffering any damage. There is still much research to be done, but the results so far are promising.
Did you know? Bioremediation is the use of microorganism metabolism to degrade pollutants.
This is an example of how science is being used to help protect Mother Earth.
Deinococcus radiodurans - World's Toughest Bacteria
Mann, Jeffrey E. 2009. Recent advances in the development of Deinococcus spp. for use in bioremediation of mixed radioactive waste. Basic Biotechnology 5:60-65
Slade, D. and M. Radman. 2011. Oxidative Stress Resistance in Deinococcus radiodurans. Microbiol. Mol. Biol. Rev. 75(1):133-191.
Article first published April 2, 2012