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Role of microorganisms studied in moving, cleaning sediment

Brent Peyton and Rajesh Sani, researchers in the Center for Multiphase Environmental Research, received a 4-year, $1.2 million grant for a project to characterize indigenous microorganisms in the metal-contaminated sediments of Lake Coeur d’Alene and to analyze their role in the transport of metals through the environment.

The work, sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Biocomplexity Program, could someday be used to better predict metal transport processes in contaminated sediments and improve bioremediation strategies.

A long history of mining in the Northwest has led to high levels of heavy metals in the sediments of some area lakes and rivers. However, microorganisms that live in these metal-contaminated sediments, such as those in Lake Coeur d’Alene, are capable of detoxifying their environment and thus constitute an important factor in the biogeochemical cycles of these metals. The researchers hope to understand and quantify the biogeochemical reactions controlling the fate and transport of these metals to effectively model and predict changes in metal concentrations and microbial populations.

“In the natural environment, the biogeochemistry becomes very complex,’’ said Peyton. “We hope to better understand how the types of toxic metals, the variety of soil minerals and the different types of microorganisms interact. They each play a role.’’

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