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Hair-like filaments called pili enable some bacteria to remove uranium from contaminated groundwater. The discovery, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could aid in the development of radioactivity clean-up technologies.
Some bacteria, including a species called Geobacter sulfurreducens, are known to get their energy from reducing — or adding electrons to — metals in the environment. When uranium dissolved in groundwater is reduced in this way, the metal becomes much less soluble, reducing the spread of contamination.