Wednesday, December 18, 2019

University of Iowa researchers have identified a host of bacteria and fungi that potentially could be used to get rid of pollutants that gather on buildings and other surfaces.

In a study published in the American Chemical Society journal Earth and Space Chemistry, researchers led by Scott Shaw, associate professor in chemistry, found that surfaces in residential, wooded, and urban settings host layered films consisting of persistent organic pollutants that can include pesticides, PCBs and DDT. These surfaces also are home to numerous types of bacteria and fungi — some of which degrade the pollutants by consuming and digesting them.

“We learned that loads of fungi and bacteria live together on our building surfaces, and that these microorganisms consume and deposit lots of chemicals,” Shaw says. “These microscopic creatures play a large role in the fate and transport of pollutants and in regional air quality.”

Working with Timothy Mattes, professor in civil and environmental engineering and a co-author on the study, the researchers next aim to sequence the DNA of the bacteria and fungi found on the sampled surfaces to find out which may be good candidates to potentially harvest as pollutant-eating agents.

The study is titled, “Passively sampled environmental films show geographic variability and host a variety of microorganisms.”

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Army Research Office, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, and the UI’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination.