Could Microbes Solve Russias Chemical Weapons Conundrum?

One of natures most versatile microorganisms a bacterium called Pseudomonas putida could help mop up the toxic by-products caused by the destruction of the chemical weapon mustard, write Russian researchers. 

 

One of natures most versatile microorganisms a bacterium called Pseudomonas putida could help mop up the toxic by-products caused by the destruction of the chemical weapon mustard, write Russian researchers in Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology this month.

 

At 40,000 tons, Russia houses the worlds largest stockpile of chemical warfare agents (CWAs). The country faces a race against time to dispose of the stockpile by 2007, in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This disposal must be achieved in an ecologi-cally-sound manner.

 

Dr Inna Ermakova and colleagues from the GK Skryabin Institute of Biochemistry and Physiology of Microorganisms at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Puschino examined the possibility of using P putida to transform the toxic by-products contained in reaction masses (RMs) that arise when mustard is destroyed by chemical detoxification (a procedure developed in response to the CWC).

 

Currently, incineration or a process called bitumenization are employed to deal with RMs, however both methods are highly expensive and pose environmental risks.

 

Mustard is a blistering agent that was first used in World War I. Found in both liquid and aerosol form (mustard gas), it can cause severe burns to the skin, and severe damage to the respiratory system and internal organs if ingested or inhaled. It accounts for around 2 percent of Russias CWA stockpile.

 

Around 60 percent of the mustard RM consists of derivatives of a toxic compound called 1,4-perhydrothiazine (PHT).

 

Ermakovas research team grew P putida in cultures containing mustard RM. They then monitored the levels of PHT derivatives in the cultures until the bacteria stopped growing, using monoethanolamine (MEA) and ethylene glycol (EG) both residual components of the initial de-toxification process that are present in the RM for growth.

 

The results showed that the concentrations of each PHT derivative decreased significantly when P putida was grown in the presence of these carbon sources. By the time the bacteria had stopped growing, the concentration of the PHT derivatives had de-creased by 50 percent to 55 percent. When further MEA and EG were added, the overall PHT decrease was 83 percent.

 

In the absence of a carbon source other than PHT, the PHT levels remained constant. When no bacteria were present, the PHT concentrations also remained constant.

 

The authors conclude that the 1,4-perhydrothiazines undergo transformation by the microbial cells when a growth substrate (MEA/EG) is present. However as the cells did not grow in the presence of PHT alone, the authors conclude that the bacteria cannot use them for growth.

 

The group hopes that the bacterial strain can be used in the context of plant-microbial associations to create a new generation of biotechnologies for remediation of soils contaminated by CWAs or products of their detoxification.

 

Bioutilization of organic compounds of reaction masses is a biotechnological method that provides maximum environmental safety, since the pollutants are naturally degraded to innocuous products such as carbon dioxide and water, as well as microbial biomass, said Ermakova.

 

Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology

 

The Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology (JCTB) is an international peer-reviewed forum providing vital information relating scientific discoveries and inventions in process biotechnology and chemical technology to their conversion into commercial products. Uniquely, JCTB focuses on the interfaces between chemical technology and biotechnology, especially where these impact on health and safety and the environment.

 

Source: SCI

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