Electrodes Tap into Microbial Activity During Uranium Bioremediation


Microbes in subsurface environments can be used to remediate uranium-contaminated sites but scientists have not been able to monitor the progress of bioremediation without physically taking samples. Now, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Ruhr University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the University of Massachusetts have adapted microbial fuel cell techniques to the detection of microbial activity in the environment. Electrodes placed into the subsurface during uranium bioremediation provide a signal that correlates with acetate availability (a microbial energy source) demonstrating a new method to monitor microbial activity in the environment. The results suggest that electrical signals could be used to monitor the progress of bioremediation processes and provide real-time data for use in predictive models of microbial metabolism during uranium bioremediation. These techniques are not specific to uranium bioremediation and in fact could be used to detect microbial activity in a host of different environmental settings thereby allowing researchers to directly examine rates of microbial processes in environment. The results are reported in the latest addition of Environmental Science and Technology (2010) 44:47-54.