Silence on Research
s I was going through the flood of news on Fukushima, there was a conspiracy theory that the mysterious and highly radioactive black substance being found in many places was actually a decontamination experiment. It was a wild theory, but it caught people’s imagination, because of the discovery of radiotropic fungi at Chernobyl being discussed earlier. These fungi have been found to use melanin to absorb radiation and use it for energy! So in an experiment, when they upped the radiation to 500 times normal, they thrived! Not much is known about their mechanisms, but it is indeed a discovery that is memorable for being astonishing.
Then Fukushima Diary reported that the black substance (likely Cyanophyceae according to them) got generated on a road after rain and noted that its earlier manifestation had happened after snow. So one of the people had posted that this black stuff might be Cyanophyceae and might be an experiment to collect metals for easier disposal (or washing away with rain – as another commenter suggested). The commenter quoted the project description:
“Development of high affinity biosorbents by surface display of metal binding proteins”
“The project is to develop profit oriented economically feasible to implement by all metal handling industries including DAE establishments for the treatment of low and medium level metal containing effluents and nuclear wastes using enhanced whole-cell biosorption technology. It is aimed at to proceed from the proof-of concept to “field testing stage.” The development of such an efficient and affordable technology for nuclear waste treatment is essential. In this project we will develop a technology for the display of metal binding proteins at the cell surface of “cyanobacteria.” The strains will be tested for immobilization for the development of bioreactor to remove the radioactive and non-radioactive metal from industrial effluents. The process parameters will be optimized for scaling up. The proposed project may provide a cost effective, quick and more metal binding capacity and it will find an essential alternative method for online treatment in DAE and metal handling industries for safe discharge of wastewater.”
Cyanobacteria; This is Blue/Green Algae. Also Known As The Black Stuff.
Curious, I clicked on the link to arrive at the website of BITS Pilani!
The above information was in the sixth or so title (can’t link individually – they expand), but the very first one said:
Low and medium level waste generated by the nuclear industry contain large number of radioactive isotopes of different metals. The volume of this waste coupled with surfactants and interfering radicals creates problem for conventional cleanup operations using synthetic resins. In our recently concluded project funded by Department of Atomic Energy, Govt of India, we have demonstrated that a non-conventional Biosorption Techniques could be employed for the effective removal of radioisotope from nuclear waste even in the presence of EDTA or nitrate. This technique require the generation/ selection of suitable biomass using molecular biology techniques which may be packed in glass or ss column for continuous operation.
No mention of the Cynobacteria in this one, but very, very intriguing.
The astonishing part is that this hasn’t hit news AT ALL. It is not a state secret. It has been announced openly on their website as research. In the context of world events, and concerns over nuclear and other metal contamination (think Punjab), etc I would think this would be a good idea to appreciate very useful research like this, no?
I think it is sad that we appreciate and share research news from the US but not India. In India, it has to either involve someone/thing famous/flashy “Kalam and kid designed anti-molestation device” or robotics and other gadgetry (like UAV projects), or has to be patronizingly surprising of the “illiterate villager designs electric pump” or “man designs cheap sanitary napkins” type. It is rare to be excited about research by Indians – as in, extending the boundaries of knowledge, even though there is no shiny object yet. Sad. We need to appreciate knowledge more without needing dazzle attached to it. Actually, now that I think of it, do we have a “science beat” at all in a country hoping for better literacy, industry, professionals and employment?