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Microbe Transports Contaminants Through Its Fibers

Bacteria can break down hydrocarbons in the soil, but how quickly the compounds degrade depends on how rapidly they reach the bacteria. Fibrous networks of fungi and related organisms might be able to help, researchers have discovered. Threads in these networks, which transport nutrients through the organisms’ bodies, also transport oily contaminants (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es300810b). The networks might carry contaminants directly to bacteria that can destroy them, the researchers say.

Soil forms a complicated labyrinth of pores that impedes the motion of chemicals or bacteria, says soil biologist Karl Ritz of England’s Cranfield University, who was not involved with the new study. Stirring soil, a typical treatment for small contaminated sites, speeds degradation because it brings bacteria and oil together. Some filamentous organisms might do the same thing, thought Lukas Wick, of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany, because their fibrous structures extend through pores in the soil and could connect contaminants with bacteria.

Fungi and other filamentous organisms grow using thin shoots called hyphae, which carry nutrients much like the blood vessels do in human beings. These hyphae tangle into a network called a mycelium.

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