Uranium Removal with Protein Nanowires

Gemma Reguera, Dena Cologgi

Soil and groundwater contamination with uranium and radioactively contaminated waste pose serious environmental problems for human and animal consumption. Researchers at MSU have discovered that protein nanowire-expressing microorganisms are highly effective at precipitating and immobilizing heavy metal elements, including uranium, without compromising the organism’s viability. This process can be harnessed to clean heavy metal contaminants more effectively and sustainably than other available technologies.

The Invention

Microorganisms like Geobacteraceae produce protein nanowires that bind and reductively precipitate heavy metals such as uranium. Nanowire-producing microorganisms remove substantially more heavy metals than other microorganisms as the heavy metals are prevented from permeating inside the cell envelope and killing the cells. This allows for a more effective clean-up of radioactively contaminated liquids and solids than with current methods. This technology includes compositions and methods for purifying, functionalizing, and mass-producing and assembling the nanowires to develop inexpensive, biodegradable devices for efficient heavy metal removal in situ and in treatment plants.

Key Benefits
  • Enables a more effective clean-up of heavy metal contaminated liquids & soils than current methods
  • Cost effective mass-production is possible
  • Minimal environmental disruption
  • Nanotechnology for environmental applications
  • Uranium removal from groundwater and contaminated soil
  • Managing runoff / contaminated waste water from nuclear plants, manufacturing and mining facilities
Technology Contact

Thomas Herlache, Assistant Director, Michigan State University, herlache@msu.edu

Sustainable Field-to-Product Optimization