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New Research to Find Environment-Cleansing Bugs 40

Hop-Frog writes: "Here is a report on work going toward engineering bugs to cleanse the environment. There are bugs to eat carbon, toxic waste and more. This should please many people of a variety of political persuations."
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New Research to Find Environment-Cleansing Bugs

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  • by undeg chwech ( 589211 ) on Wednesday July 24, 2002 @10:00AM (#3944013) Homepage
    This should please many people of a variety of political persuations

    Yeah ... it will please everyone who doesn't mind genetically engineered super-bacteria roaming the planet.
    • Yeah ... it will please everyone who doesn't mind genetically engineered super-bacteria roaming the planet.

      It's no big deal. If they get out of hand we can release genetically engineered rodents to eat them. And if they get out of control we'll release genetically engineered cats to eat them...
    • Pseudomonas, while a member of a family of significant human pathogens, is also ....blah-di-blah

      I can think of some political persuasions whom human pathogens might suit just fine....

    • Actually,

      most of the "bugs" used in these projects have nothing to do with genetic engineering or some sort of weird "superbugs". The company that I work for, along with many others work on isolating bugs that are able to use certain "contaminants" as food sources.

      They do so by making the environment that they live in more hospitable to them by changing factors such as pH, dissolved oxygen and the presence of nutrients.

      There's nothing new about this, guys. And it's only scary if you don't take the time to read up on it. What IS scary is some of the crap that's in people's drinking water right now.

      • First of all, the article mentions explicitely "genetically engineered bugs".

        Now, when you go around engineering bugs, you are forgeting a couple o' things which might just turn back on you (preferably in a scarier and hungrier version).

        For instance:
        "These organisms are like nanomachines. We know their genetic code, hence the isntructions required to produce them bla bla bla" says the MIT guru. Yeah. The only problem is that microorganisms are not machines. Unlike machines, microorganisms have this annoying tendency of replicating. Plus, they mutate all the time. What if some little bugger genetically engineered to perpetrate cities and stuff develops taste for human flesh?

        Furthermore, the ecosystem is more chaotic than most corporate executives believe. Maybe if you release some bug that say, eats toxic waste, this bug also render other bugs extinct. Maybe the bug is a carier for bacteria that kill me, you, and the other bug whose crap cures cancer and hasn't been discovered yet.

        There is a solution to environmental pollution. Stop polluting the bloody environment that much! Use smaller cars, don't use CFC, find alternatives to oil, recycle. But these things do not immediately translate into money, so we get stupidities of all kinds instead. Money-making stupidities in fact...
    • This should please many people of a variety of political persuations

      If they create the bugs to be gay/transgendered in nature, then they will please even more persuations.

  • Or software have plenty of bugs, can they be used? I'm willing to sell them for scientific purpose.
  • here we go (Score:1, Insightful)

    by tps12 ( 105590 )
    Okay, this is too much. How does no one recognize that it might not be the best idea to pour robotic, self-replicating bugs into our atmosphere?!? How long before the little bastards develop a taste for human flesh?

    This is not the correct way to go about fixing the environment. Throwing technology at a problem caused by technology is not going to work. Rather, we need to simplify our lives. Take a page from the Indians, and start harvesting and hunting our own food. Walk or ride horseback instead of driving. Weave your own clothes from skins.

    But don't don't don't develop flesh-eating microscoping robo-bugs!
    • case you didn't know, there are already trillions of "robotic, self-replicating bugs" running free, and they've been around since long before there were humans on this planet.

      Yes, "living naturally" and drinking water you pulled out of hand-dug well with a bucket will eventually clean up the largest toxic waste dump...if you can find enough "living naturally" volunteers who don't mind ending up in the toxic graveyard.

      Is there some special reason for you to think that bacteria designed to live on nuclear waste would want to eat your flesh?
    • Joking aside, the quote from the article that gets me is: "We can make bugs that eat carbon dioxide, we can make trees grow in climates that are barren today," he added.". This is where the genome projects and what-not get carried away. Have we not yet learned that changing the environment, even minutely, can introduce a whole new cycle to the food chain and safety of the region as a whole. Soon to follow is overpopulation, environment destruction, and all that fun stuff. (see chinese beatles, killer bees, and that Simpsons episode where Bart took his frog to Australia...I think it was Australia...for examples). Sure reversing our own destruction through the introduction of new bacteria is a great idea, but then how does one get rid of all the bacteria?
      • Re:here we go (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Sgt York ( 591446 )
        "We can make bugs that eat carbon dioxide"

        Yeah, it's called ALGAE. It's just a minor one, though. Probably just the most common orgsanism on the planet by biomass.

        As for the "trees where it is barren today" I'm all for it, provided those barren areas are the places we made barren

        • Re:here we go (Score:2, Interesting)

          by warp365 ( 593129 )
          I know it's a little late for a reply, but my point is: humans did not MAKE algae. Algae was here before we were. We can't just go and make life...I know we try (i.e. cloning), but it's probably going to just end up biting us in the ass.
          • If you're too late, I'm WAY late.

            The article doesn't talk about engineering new bugs, but looking for exsisting ones and using those. For practically every substance there is, there is a bug that can eat it (even granite).

            And as a point of order, cloning is the reproduction of what already exsists. That's not making anything new, either.

    • While I strongly agree that this would be the best solution, you have to realise that without industrial farming, there simply won't be enough food for everyone. Whether or not humans are a parasite on this planet is another matter, but you need to be realistic as well. Check out this [] for some more realistic ideas, like urban farming and biofuels.
  • by SoftwareTechie ( 244191 ) on Wednesday July 24, 2002 @10:27AM (#3944185)
    News headline:

    All life on Earth mysteriously disappears.
    In other news, health officials are worried about the increased incidence of obesity in carbon-eating bacteria.

  • Ringworld (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lonely ( 32990 )

    Just go through reading ringworld by Larry Niven, this had an interesting scenario of a dyson "ring" that had apparently lost it technology.

    It turned out that all civilisation had been lost due to little microbes eat all there high temperature semiconductors. With not power all of a sudden it was not possible to boot-strap into any other form of technology.

    One quote in the book was about the fact that on earth polythene had to be abbandoned as too many things have been trained to eat it. :-)
  • by Snafoo ( 38566 ) on Wednesday July 24, 2002 @11:01AM (#3944453) Homepage
    Some big, suspicious corporation with many millions of dollars of PCB-filled waste containers slowly and secretly rusting in the Boston harbour could genetically engineer a microbe to take those PCBs and rip off the chlorine molecule so as to reduce the stuff to harmless saltwater.

    But wait, this all sounds familiar...
  • Hold yer horses (Score:2, Informative)

    by Hoeken ( 554149 )
    "Pseudomonas, while a member of a family of significant human pathogens, is also one of the most versatile biochemical factories on earth. It has more different chemical reactions that it can do than almost any other organism and could handle a variety of toxic waste," it added. Does anyone else see the danger in applying mutations to a human pathogen?
    • It may be a member of a family of significant human pathogens, but it doesn't follow that all members of that genus are pathogens. For example, Pseudomonas fluorescens is a broad group of bacteria that are not pathogenic but are commonly found in the soil and some acquatic environments. I have personally done (some small) work on a protein isolated from a P. fluorescens strain from a WW II munitions plant that allowed it to munch on TNT and related explosive compounds. Note that this is a naturally occuring evolutionary adaptation to a contaminated environment! But wouldn't it be neat to take a little of this and drop it on, say a minefield where landmines are slowly decomposing and releasing small amounts of TNT, but local P. fluorescens strains lack this explosives-munching ability due to lower environmental pressure than at a highly contaminated munitions plant? Wouldn't be even cooler to engineer the little buggers to express GFP so that they glow? Clearing a minefield might then be much easier: spray the engineered P. fluorescens strain over the minefield, wait a couple days then go in with UV light to see where the mines are. If it's bright green, don't step there!
  • If we've learned anything from infomercians, it's that any 'breaking fact' that ends with "and more" is pure hogwash. It directly translates to "This thing is guaranteed to do absolutely nothing. If it does anything more, then consider yourself lucky."

    Bacteria that eats carbon ? Come on, what do you think all living tissue is made of ? That's right kids, Carbon!
    • Ummm....what do you think most of what WE eat is?

      Carbohydrates: CnOnH2n

      Fats: long hydroCARBON chains with a carboxylic acid at one end

      Protein: Amino acid chains, comprised of mostly carbon (by mass) The things on this planet that don't use carbon based compounds as their primary energy source are the exotic ones.

      Yes, plants included.

  • "Abraham hopes scientists can find a way to use the bacterium to clean up nuclear waste. "

    Okay...I'll buy that you can make a hardier bacterium capable of withstanding high doses of radiation, but how is it actually going to CLEAN the waste? Radioactivity is a property of the individual atoms making up the waste. Digestion, even genetically engineered superbug digestion, is limited to making and breaking chemical bonds, not atom-smashing.

    They already dump mutant bugs on oil spills, but that's because the difficulty there is recollecting all the oil, and the bugs can digest it and render it less harmfull to the environment. The key is that you don't have to go back later and clean up the bugs...they presumably die off when the oil is gone. The problem with nuclear waste isn't usually the spills so much as the fact that it has to be stored for 10000's of years before the radiation has dissipated enough. Even if you do have a nuclear waste spill and you dump some superbugs on it, you still have to clean up the now radioactive superbugs in order to remove the detrimental effects of the spill.

    • IANANES (I am not a nuclear environmental specialist) but the bugs can do one of two things in nuclear waste. First clean up the non-nuclear hazerdous waste, like the bugs eating say PCBS in an area which is also radioactive. The second thing they can do is oxidize or reduce radioactive element. Say for instance you have radioactive element X with a valence charge of 2+, the bug reduces the element to a charge of 0. Thus the radioactive element, while still radioactive, may be less likely to leach with water further down into the ground.

      • Actually you want the bug to bind the radioactive waste into a molecule that is chemically more reactive. The idea is that the new molecule will be more likely to react with the surrounding media and hence will "stick" to it. If the new molecule is inactive it will simply flow through the media along with the fluid it is immersed in.
    • how is it actually going to CLEAN the waste? Radioactivity is a property of the individual atoms making up the waste.

      I had the same problem with the write-up. It says there are bugs that eat carbon, well hell, I eat carbon too, that doen't mean I don't also excrete carbon. I'm assuming they meant they ate carbon dioxide and/or monoxide bonded it with something else like hydrogen to produce hydro-carbons or calcium to produce harmless calcium carbonate.

  • Forget cleaning the environment... how bout bugs that just eat other bugs, and then themselves. I hate bugs... 'cleansing' bugs or not, if I see one in my house I'm gonna squish it. I know everything has a purpose, but I have enough bugs up here in New Hampshire. I wouldn't worry too much about the environment anyways.. we are already doomed [] :)
  • Is that they should talk not to scientists but to programmers.. at least one major employer of them /\/\$ they are great at creating bugs and bugs within bugs.. I figure by bug2k4 they will have a bug cleansing the enviornment and advertising while blocking your view of anything copyrighted!

    gotta get the best man for the job

  • I don't know about you, but I don't want bugs eating nuclear waste. I want it locked up in a deep cave, not being spread around by insects!! Unlike with some chemicals, you can't make nuclear waste go away through any biological mechanism, it's a nuclear property, not a chemical one. It would just make the bugs way more radioactive. It would probably kill them, but not until they have a chance to spread it around. An exception would be if it was a bacteria/fungus that ate it and turned it into a form more easily buried.

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe