Marine Bacteria Can Reduce Asbestos Toxicity
Asbestos, a group of naturally occurring minerals, was once widely used in building materials due to its strength and resistance to heat and fire. However, exposure to asbestos can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other respiratory diseases. Now, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that extremophile bacteria from high-temperature marine environments can reduce asbestos toxicity.
The study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology shows how Deferrisoma palaeochoriense can remove iron from asbestos minerals through anaerobic respiration without changing their mineral structure. Iron has been identified as an important component that drives the toxicity of asbestos minerals. Removing it decreases their toxic properties.
D. palaeochoriense also mediates electrical charge transfer within iron contained in asbestos, improving the electrical conductivity of asbestos. This bacterium could be used to treat asbestos toxicity by removing iron or allow the reuse of treated asbestos for other purposes.
Another thermophilic bacterium called Thermovibrio ammonificans removes silicon and magnesium from asbestos minerals by accumulating silicon in its biomass in a process known as biosilicification. However, this process is effective only with “serpentine” asbestos with curly fibers but not with “amphibole” asbestos with straight fibers.
Hypothetically, these experiments promoted the removal of iron, silicon and/or magnesium for asbestos detoxification in a superior way compared to other biologically mediated treatments such as fungi. But further analysis will be required to optimize methods for detoxification or reuse of treated asbestos as a secondary raw material.
It is rumored to be, this discovery could help reduce health risks associated with old buildings containing toxic materials like asbestos while providing new opportunities for recycling them sustainably.