Breathing Chlorine: Microbial Reductive Dechlorination in Uncontaminated Sediments

Chlorinated chemicals have been used in a variety of industrial applications that have contributed to widespread contamination of surface water, groundwater, and sediment. Many of these chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens. Bacteria, called organohalide respirers, were discovered in the late 1990s that could actually make a living from the degradation of these chemicals, and have since been used for bioremediation. Unfortunately, bioremediation has had varying levels of success, especially as the contaminant reaches lower concentrations. Many chlorinated chemicals are produced naturally, however, and are present at very low concentrations in sediments and soils. Our group has discovered organohalide respirers in many uncontaminated sediments and soils where they inhabit a relatively unexplored niche. Our current work is focused on learning more about the potentially important niche that these organohalide respirers inhabit in uncontaminated environments, including uncovering which compounds they respire and how, and whether the same organisms can dechlorinate natural compounds and man-made chlorinated pollutants. We believe that a better understanding of these natural processes can improve the bioremediation of chlorinated contaminants, especially at lower concentrations.

Project Staff: 

Hanna Temme and Paige Novak