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'Bacterial shock' to recapture essential phosphate

Bacteria could be exploited to recapture dwindling phosphate reserves from wastewater according to research presented at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Conference in Dublin this week.

Phosphorus – in the form of phosphate - is essential for all living things as a component of DNA and RNA and its role in cellular metabolism. Around 38 million tonnes of phosphorus are extracted each year from rock. Most of this extracted phosphorus goes into the production of fertilizers to replace the phosphates that plants remove from the soil. However, it is a scare natural resource and current estimates suggest that reserves of phosphate rock may only last for the next 45-100 years.

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast (QUB) are developing a novel biological process to remove extracted phosphate from wastewater – where it ultimately ends up after manufacturing. Dr John McGrath who is leading the project explained, "Phosphate in wastewater is a pollutant that causes increased growth of algae and plants, reducing the oxygen available for aquatic organisms. This is known as eutrophication and poses the single biggest threat to water quality in Northern Ireland and indeed globally."
 
 

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