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That Eat Radioactive Material

An explanation for laymen
by Bruce Beach - Radiological Scientific Officer

For many years I heard rumors about a microbe that would eat radioactive material and many people helped me to try to track down the source of the rumors. Finally, I was able to locate at a US Government Research facility, Michael J. Daly, Ph.D., whom I think is probably the world's foremost expert on the subject. Over a period of five months, Dr. Daly kindly snail mailed me, and discussed with me over the phone, a half dozen scientific articles which he had written. Dr. Daly has given me permission to mirror on this site some of his web published articles, along with still further links to more exhaustive sources of information on his own site.

The material on this page I have often copied from the available sources - and while not meaning to be plagiarizing I do not give the source references per se because I have at times abstracted it, modified it with the goal of simplification, or have supplemented it with my own comments for the purpose of making it more comprehensible to the layman. While this is not meant to be a scholarly article, still one will find most of the technical information at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. I must in fairness also state the following caveat: My paradigm, both about the inevitability and survivability of nuclear war, and the consequent importance and potential for the techniques described here, is probably not shared (and is certainly not promoted) by other researchers anywhere.

The microbe under discussion exists in nature as a naturally occurring bacterium, often living in cow patties and elephant dung. It was discovered in 1956 by Arthur W. Anderson at Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station in Corvallis, and named Deinococcus radiodurans or D. radiodurans for short, a name which means "strange berry that withstands radiation". Arthur Anderson was trying to develop methods of destroying bacteria with radiation - such as now used in microwaves and the food packaging industry. But, lo and behold, here was a microbe that always survived.

It is a very ancient bacterium that has been around for millennia because of its survival capabilities. D. radiodurans has been dubbed a polyextremophile because it can endure many extremes such as cold, vacuum, dormancy, oxidative damage, and other factors, including of course, radioactivity.

There is an old saying that "one man's meat is another man's poison", and of course the opposite is true, that one creature's poison is another's food. One of the agricultural remedial techniques that I list on another web page is to use plants that have a preference for minerals other than cesium and strontium which have radioactive half-lives of such length that they can be a hazard for centuries.

The opposite strategy might also be used. That is to say to use plants that have a preference for radioactive minerals and thus draw them out of the soil. A number of such plants are known. Jimson Weed particularly has potential and while its growth is illegal in Canada its seed can still be purchased (I know, I know) from Canada and can be grown in the US. Other plants with a penchant for radioactive metals have been found around Chernobyl. These "hyperaccumulators" store metals in more harmless complexes in vacuoles - special subcellular compartments. Uranium-absorbing sunflowers are being field-tested at a Department of Energy facility in Ohio. Further research may well find numerous other plants.

I explain the whole matter of how plants and animals concentrate radioactivity and the nature of radioactive half-life in my "You Will Survive Doomsday" book, so I will not repeat that information here.

The key concept to remember about this process is that the animals, plants or microbes, DO NOT DESTROY the radiation in the process of eating it. They simply concentrate it into a form that may be more easily handled. Using the example of Jimson Weed, which one might use to reduce the contamination in a particular piece of land, one could then gather the weed and bury it elsewhere, where it is not likely to get back into food chain or water table. Burning it would simply put it back into the atmosphere. Alternatively, and probably far better, the material can be composted. The Humanure Handbook on this website is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand these processes. One should particularly read the chapter on Compost Miracles but the whole book should be required reading for farmers, health officers, environmentalists, and anyone concerned with agricultural recovery after a nuclear war.

The thing about the microbe approach is that it makes the radioactive mineral or heavy metal non-water-soluble, and therefore it won't be taken up by the plants and become part of the food chain. The microbes eat the mineral and then excrete it in a non-soluble form. Composting further enhances the process by ridding the soil of many accompanying detrimental components such as viruses, toxic chemicals, and diseases of a great variety. It is a solution to a number of problems of the Mad Cow, SARS, and plague ilk.

Without a doubt, an all-out nuclear war will cause environmental problems that will make present day concerns about smog, greenhouse effect, waterway and groundwater pollution, and any others that presently concern people, to pale by comparison. The effects may well far exceed the speculations of most scientists and could involve other effects beyond climate change and intense UV, a subject that I discuss elsewhere, and events that we place under the rubric "earth changes". However, as regards agriculture, I feel that both composting and microbes will be the most viable response for dealing with both long-term radiation and many of the other serious pollution problems that will be a part of the aftermath of an all-out nuclear war.

Even today, these solutions are being seriously under-utilized. Seventy million cubic meters of ground and three trillion liters of groundwater have been contaminated by leaking radioactive waste that was generated in the United States during the Cold War. Those numbers if expressed as hundreds of football fields piled so many feet deep and days of run of water over Niagara Falls would perhaps more graphically picture the immensity of the present problem - which, as I have said, will pale compared to the Nuclear War Aftermath.

In 1992, the DOE surveyed 91 out of 3,000 contaminated sites at 18 US research facilities. The most common contaminants from DOE wastes found in ground and groundwaters included the radionuclides 235Uranium (gamma, alpha)E, 238Plutonium (alpha)E, 99Technetium (beta-)E, 90Strontium (beta-)E, and 137Cesium (gamma, beta-)E; and the metals, Chromium, Lead and Mercury; and myriad toxic organic compounds (e.g., toluene and trichloroethylene (TCE)). One third of the 91 characterized sites are radioactive with some reported radiation levels as high as 10 mCi/L, within or close to the contaminating sources. These present high radiation levels (by civilian standards) in combination with the chemical hazards are extremely damaging to living organisms over extended periods, often resulting in cell death, but may be insignificant to what will be experienced after a nuclear war.

Of the 3,000 waste sites disclosed by the DOE, the total cleanup cost, by methods that utilize costly pump and treat technologies and/or soil excavation and incineration, was in 1996 by the government at between $189 and $265 billion, but we can be certain that those immense costs have since substantially grown. These present vast waste sites will unquestionably be insignificant as to number, and hazard, in comparison to the residual effects of nuclear war.

In today's present affluent society, there are many more resources available for tackling the present problem, than there will be for tackling the even much greater problem after nuclear war. Given the reality of these observations the task seems so hopeless to most thinking people that they simply conclude that surviving nuclear war is 'unthinkable' and I challenge the reader to find proposed solutions, for the long-term recovery of agriculture after nuclear holocaust, in other than these pages. But solutions there must be - because the problems, given humanity's headlong rush to nuclear catastrophe, are unavoidable.

The microbe solution, unfortunately, is a future solution. The solution can be theorized about at the present and some limited laboratory experimentation performed, but as far as being implemented in some large scale test, or being made available to the public - that is not going to happen in the present clime. The reason for this is three-fold.

Firstly, the government has little interest in publicizing the seriousness of the current situation such that there would be a demand and outcry for the support of the remedial programs.

Secondly, while the government expends great amounts of resources to develop weapons of mass destruction - there are zip funds available for protecting the public from their effects. Note in that regard the destruction of the civilian defense and public fallout shelter programs. The government is certainly not about to disturb the public by broadly advertising and distributing nuclear holocaust recovery procedures regarding agriculture.

Thirdly, the solution proposed here, involves the DNA technique of gene modification in these special microbes to combine their present capacity of surviving radiation with a proclivity to seek out and devour specific elements. The public, at present, is very skeptical about the use of such scientific methods and there is much opposition to their implementation. I wish there was as much opposition to the development of nuclear weapons as there is opposition to the development of the recovery techniques that those weapons will make necessary.

Let us now examine the technical aspects regarding this solution. The technical details presented here will be beyond the comprehension of many lay persons but scanning them gives one a sense of the subject. The technical details as presented here are insufficient for a scientist to replicate the experiments but again they will give them a sense of direction and on additional WebPages on this site there is still more information with links both to the additional sources and still further links. The total information that I have is too voluminous for me to store it all on the web but we are trying to preserve it at Ark Two so that it will be available for implementation after a nuclear war.

D. radiodurans is non-pathogenic which means that it is not harmful to humans. The family Deinococcaceae consists of the genera Deinococcus and Deinobacter, with the major difference between these two genera being gram-positive and gram-negative, respectively. In addition, Deinococcaceae are aerobic, require very complex media for growth and produce pink to reddish colonies. As I have previously said, they are readily available from a number of natural sources, but isolating and culturing them will require the facilities and expertise of a trained microbiologist.

D. radiodurans will flourish so long as there is adequate growth media The complex growth media (1% bactotryptone, 0.5% yeast extract; and 0.1% glucose) required by D. radiodurans is also quite readily available among the enzymes found in milk, yeast, and sugar waste by products.

D. radiodurans can survive in radiation intensity far surpassing that which in human beings can survive. We are talking about ionizing radiation (10,000 Gy) without cell-killing. For comparison, 5 Gy is lethal to the average human, and 1,000 Gy can sterilize a culture of Escherichia coli. D. radiodurans is capable of growth under chronic radiation (60 Gy/hour) and resistant to other DNA damaging conditions including exposure to desiccation, UV light, and hydrogen peroxide. It is hard to get rid of, but as I have just stated, it is not harmful to humans. The fact that it is UV resistant may also be of particular significance.

Because of its unique qualities there has been genomic sequencing of the 3.1 million base pairs of D. radiodurans and significant accomplishments have been achieved in gene splicing with Pseudomonas, E. coli, and other genetic material.

There are numerous other bacteria (including Shewanella and Pseudomonas spp.) that have been described and studied in detail for their ability to transform, detoxify, or immobilize a variety of metallic and organic pollutants. However, like most organisms, these bacteria are sensitive to the damaging effects of radiation so they are not of interest to us here as is D. radiodurans.

Another exceptional capability of D. radiodurans is that it can accommodate and functionally express highly amplified DNA duplication insertions encoding bioremediation functions. In even simpler layman terms, what this means is that D. radiodurans is especially adaptable for gene splicing, which permits it to be 'easily' modified for the many different bioremediating gene systems that will be necessary for cleanup of the heterogeneous radioactive environments that we will find after nuclear war. This strain supports >2,000,000 bp of foreign DNA and it can metabolize toluene or chlorobenzene while at the same time resisting and reducing toxic ionic Hg(II) to volatile elemental Hg(0).

There are a number of facets of this subject that I have not touched upon, such as the fact that what makes D. radiodurans so survivable is that it maintains within its DNA strands multiple copies of its code, and particularly of its replication code, which is something that might be adapted to other plants and organisms.

However, at this point, in writing this article, I noted that I had abstracted out and gathered together enough further technical information to make this article twice its present length, but I decided to conclude it at this point. If I have convinced the reader that this is a solution that needs to be further explored - then I have achieved my goal. Following is the link to the detailed lab information which I have mirrored on this web site - and also a link to the sources for the on-going research. Hopefully, after the nuclear war, those sources will remain available or we will have managed to preserve sufficient information at Ark Two.

The specific areas that I wish that I could have touched more on are such as the means of mass producing quantities of the microbe, the machinery necessary for its application to farm fields, the methods of supplying it with nutrients in application, and so forth. However, these are not matters, as we say, of rocket science, and are not to be found in the accompanying scientific links. Agricultural experts will be able to develop those solutions in the aftermath.

The Lab Procedure for developing D. radiodurans is mirrored on this website:


The on the web source for this information is the:

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

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