Monday 4 September 2023

Extremophilic bacteria can reduce asbestos toxicity


Two heat-loving marine bacteria can help detoxify asbestos, according to a new study. This discovery from the University of Pennsylvania could have implications for detoxifying the environment.


Asbestos materials were once commonly used in buildings, based on the material strength and resistance to heat. This was not, in later transpired, without health risks for asbestos exposure through inhalation of particles has been shown to be highly carcinogenic.


The bacteria studied are extremophilic, isolated from high temperature marine environments.


The first organism is called Deferrisoma palaeochoriense and it can remove iron from asbestos minerals through anaerobic respiration of the iron. This is important, since iron is a major component for the toxicity of asbestos minerals.


D. palaeochoriense is a thermophilic, anaerobic and mixotrophic bacterium from the genus of Deferrisoma which has been isolated from a hydrothermal vent from the Palaeochori Bay from Greece.


D. palaeochoriense can also mediate the transfer of electrical charge within the iron contained in asbestos, without changing its mineral structure. This property of electrical conductivity could enable reuse of treated asbestos.


The fibrous silicate structures of asbestos are also carcinogenic and it has been shown that the removal of silicon and magnesium from asbestos disrupts its fibrous structure. In relation to this, the investigators also tested the ability of a second thermophilic bacterium called Thermovibrio ammonificans to remove these elements from asbestos minerals by accumulating silicon in its biomass in a process known as biosilicification. In trials, T. ammonificans accumulated silicon in its biomass when in the presence of asbestos


T. ammonificans is a Gram-negative sulphur reducing bacterium, found in deep sea hydrothermal vent chimney. It is a chemolithoautotroph, using nitrate or elemental sulphur as electron acceptors with concomitant formation of ammonium or hydrogen sulphide.



However, due to the varying amounts and types of elements released during microbe-mineral interactions and the existence of different types of asbestos, approaching asbestos treatments as a one-size-fits-all solution is not possible.   This means further research and experimentation will be required.


The research appears in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, titled “Microbe-Mineral Interactions between Asbestos and Thermophilic Chemolithoautotrophic Anaerobes.”


Please check out the website Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources for additional microbiology news:


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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