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article imageCaffeinated bacteria may help with waste decontamination

By Tim Sandle     Apr 3, 2013 in Environment
Genetically engineered bacteria that can digest caffeine have been created for the purpose of the decontamination of wastewater.
The reason for scientists attempting to create bacteria that can process caffeine is because caffeine and related chemical compounds have become common, and important, water pollutants. This is due to the widespread use in coffee, soda pop, tea, energy drinks, chocolate and certain medications (such as prescription drugs for asthma and other lung diseases).
For example, caffeine pollution was found in high levels in the Pacific Ocean off Oregon, according to National Geographic. Such levels could be damaging for marine life, according to Portland State University Professor Elise Granek.
The creation of a genetically engineered bacterium (a type of Escherichia coli), the research brief notes, was based on the properties of a natural soil bacterium called Pseudomonas putida CBB5. The soil bacterium can actually live solely on caffeine, based on a University of Iowa discovery made in 2011.
In order to create a bacterium suitable for wastewater, the scientists transferred the genetic material responsible for metabolizing, or breaking down, caffeine from the soil bacterium into a type of E. coli bacterium.
Trials so far indicate that the genetically modified E. coli is effective at ‘decaffeination’ and has great potential for addressing wastewater pollutants.
The findings have been published in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.
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