Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Recoloured SEM of Gloeomargarita lithophora with amorphous carbonate mineral phase inclusions.

A Gloeomargarita lithophora bacterium containing carbonate granules (white spheres). The microbe’s ability to form such granules internally might explain how it draws radioactive isotopes from its surroundings. Credit: Karim Benzerara and Stefan Borensztajn/CNRS

Environmental sciences

Nuclear waste? These microbes might help with the cleanup

Bacteria discovered in a Mexican lake accumulate two radioactive isotopes in their cells.

A species of photosynthetic bacterium could help to soak up radioactive contaminants in polluted waterways.

Benjamin Kocar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Karim Benzerara at the Sorbonne University in Paris and their colleagues found that the bacterium Gloeomargarita lithophora is particularly adept at sucking up the radioactive isotopes radium-226 and strontium-90. The former has a half-life of 1,600 years, can be found in mining and power-plant runoff, and is one of the most common radioisotopes in groundwater. By contrast, 90Sr mainly reaches waterways from nuclear tests and accidents, and has a half-life of 29 years. Both are thought to pose risks to the environment and human health, and prior research has explored the ability of various microbes, fungi and other organisms to gobble them up.

Compared with organisms studied previously, G. lithophora showed the highest uptake of both 90Sr and 226Ra. This ability is probably related to a process by which G. lithophora draws in substances from its environment to form internal clumps of calcium carbonate.

More Research Highlights...

Auroras on Jupiter

Jupiter’s aurora glows blue in this composite image. A newly detected radio signal might be the signature of a similar aurora on a planet in another solar system. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols, Univ. Leicester

Astronomy and astrophysics

Wiggly signal hints of an aurora on a planet far from the Solar System

A vast radio observatory on Earth detects signals similar to those generated by the aurora on Jupiter.
Members of the "Ice Memory project" extract an ice core piece out of a drill machine

Scientists extract an ice core from the Col du Dome glacier near the top of Mont Blanc in the French Alps. A similar core documents changes in emissions of an ozone-depleting gas. Credit: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Ice on the Alps’s highest peak details a pollutant’s rise

A glacier on Mont Blanc provides a decades-long record of the use of bromine, which corrodes the ozone layer.
Jumping ant guarding pupae and larvae at the nest

The brain of an Indian jumping worker ant (above, guarding pupae and larvae) becomes smaller if she starts to lay eggs but can regrow to its old size if she stops reproducing. Credit: Martin Dohrn/Nature Picture Library


Ants shrink their brains for motherhood — but can enlarge them when egg-laying ends

Brain volume plummets in ‘gamergate’ ants that gain the ability to reproduce, but rises again with a fall in fertility.
A health worker puts on his personal protective equipment

A health worker in the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to care for people infected with Ebola virus during the 2018–20 outbreak, which prompted an extensive genomic analysis. Credit: John Wessels/AFP/Getty


An unprecedented genomic analysis helped to curb an Ebola outbreak

Despite extraordinary challenges, scientists managed to sequence a high percentage of Ebola virus genomes from a deadly wave of infections.
Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

Vast bush fires that swept across Australia at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 filled the skies with enough smoke to warm a portion of the atmosphere. Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Visible and infrared images of the device in fully discharged and charged states

A display screen in its uncharged (top left) and charged (top right) state in visible light. The screen reflects one range of infrared wavelengths when uncharged (bottom left) and another range when charged (bottom right). Credit: M. S. Ergoktas et al./Nature Photon.

Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing


Quick links