MANCHESTER, England, May 26 (UPI) -- Over the last year, researchers at the University of Manchester have been testing what they call extremophile bacteria, radiation-resistant microorganisms that clean nuclear waste.
Now, scientists say their most recent tests suggest the bacteria is even more effective than originally thought.
"This could provide a new, and very useful extra layer of protection when we are trying to dispose of nuclear waste," lead researcher Jonathan Lloyd, a professor at the University of Manchester, said in a press release.
Since its discovery a year ago, extremophile bacteria has proven capable of ridding nuclear waste of organic compounds. The microbes don't magically disappear the radioactive compounds, but by breaking down organic matter, the bacteria prevent radioactive elements from leaching into the environment.
The bacteria work by converting soluble forms of radionuclides, like uranium, into less hazardous and mobile insoluble forms. But until recently, scientists weren't sure how long communities of the novel bacteria could last before the waste's radiation killed it off.
Scientists knew the microbes were radiation resistant, but the question was: How resistant?
New tests show that some of these extremophile microbes are actually buoyed by radiation -- not deterred. The research suggests the bacteria can actually thrive in radioactive environments.
"Before this research, the assumption was that the radiation would probably kill off the bacteria that we are studying, but it seems that is not the case," Lloyd said. "It is potentially a very important finding for the nuclear industry, and illustrates how resilient biology can be!"
The new research is detailed in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, published by the American Society for Microbiology.