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PNNL's role in Science discovery on how microbe survives otherwise deadly radiation

September 30, 2004 Share This!

  • A transmission electron micrograph shows Deinococcus radiodurans, a bacterium that is resistant to extreme levels of ionizing radiation and to desiccation. Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have isolated several strains of the bacterium from sediments collected from under a nuclear waste storage tank at the U.S. Department of Energy Hanford Site.

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RICHLAND, Wash. – Jim Fredrickson, a chief scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is a co-author of a paper published online by the journal Science, at the Science Express website, today, September 30.

The study suggests why the bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans is able to survive radiation that would kill most other life instantly: It contains a high level of the metal manganese where you would find iron in other organisms, including human beings.

The measurements of the cellular concentrations of manganese and iron were performed at PNNL in Richland, Wash.

The following information is provided by Science Express and lead author Michael J. Daly of Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

Radiation-Resistant Bug's Survival Tool

The reason that the bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans can withstand extremes of ionizing radiation and dehydration appears to be tied to the relatively high levels of manganese and low levels of iron ions in its cells. In the past, researchers have suggested that this microorganisms extraordinary hardiness might have to do with the fact that each cell has 4-8 genome copies or that its chromosome has an unusual ring-like structure. Michael J. Daly and colleagues now show that the chromosome organization is unlikely to play a role in radiation resistance and that a high concentration of manganese ions relative to iron ions is essential to its ability to survive gamma-radiation. The authors suggest that the manganese may not provide protection from the initial radiation; rather, it protects cells against harmful reactive oxygen species that accumulate during the recovery from radiation.


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Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of about $950 million. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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