Microorganisms that can degrade environmental pollutants have significant biotechnological potential, but until now, the identification of such useful bacteria has mainly relied on attempts to culture contaminated sediment in the laboratory. In the October 27 PNAS, Che Ok Jeon and colleagues at Cornell University report on the use of field-based techniques that have led to the discovery of a previously unknown bacterium capable of biodegradation of naphthalene. The researchers also report that the technique has the potential for use in the discovery of yet more organisms that can biodegrade a wider variety of environmental pollutants (PNAS, DOI:10.1073/pnas.1735529100, October 27, 2003).

Jeon et al. used field-based stable isotopic probing to examine an area near South Glens Falls, NY, that is contaminated with coal-tar waste rich in naphthalene. Regions of surface sediment actively degrading the compound over a period of 8 to 54 hours were isolated after inoculation with environmentally equivalent...

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