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.

Glass of water on bedside table

Drinking water in the United States and elsewhere has been contaminated with perchlorate, an ingredient of rocket fuel. A new material can break down the pollutant. Credit: Getty


Microbes teach a master class in how to clean polluted water

Chemists take a cue from bacterial enzymes that degrade perchlorate, a contaminant found in drinking water.

Bacteria that break down a harmful molecule have inspired chemists to build a material that does the same, potentially yielding benefits for humans on Earth and perhaps, one day, Mars.

Used in fireworks and rocket fuels, the explosive perchlorate ion (ClO4) disrupts thyroid function and often seeps into drinking water. Microbes living in oxygen-poor environments provide an idea for remediation: some of them breathe by splitting perchlorate into oxygen gas and harmless chloride ions.

The complex microbial machinery for this process includes an enzyme containing molybdenum atoms, which rip the first oxygen atom from perchlorate. Jinyong Liu at the University of California, Riverside, and his colleagues designed a material that also relies on molybdenum to strip oxygen from perchlorate. The researchers stabilized the molybdenum molecules by embedding them in the pores of a carbon powder, which also house palladium nanoparticles that power the entire oxygen-removal process.

Suspended in water, the powder completely degraded perchlorate in various concentrations at room temperature. The researchers hope that with further engineering, this process could help to supply oxygen on Mars, where perchlorates lace the soil.

More Research Highlights...

Selected materials found in the gut contents of Tollund Man

The intestinal contents of a man killed in a prehistoric ritual (clockwise from upper left): barley, charred food that had been encrusted in a clay pot, flax seeds and sand. Credit: Peter Steen Henriksen, the Danish National Museum


The guts of a ‘bog body’ reveal sacrificed man’s final meal

Tollund Man, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, ate well before he was hanged.
Illustration of Earth with white lines showing the magnetic field.

Earth’s magnetic field (depicted as white lines in this artist’s impression) can be studied with observations from a constellation of commercial satellites. Credit: Mikkel Juul Jensen/Science Photo Library


Telecoms satellites’ new purpose: spying on Earth’s magnetic field

Clues to the forces generated by the planet’s core emerge from observations intended for satellite navigation.
Ageing of an artwork with graphene

After 130 hours of artificial ageing by visible light, the painting Triton and Nereid has lost some of the purple tint to the figures’ right, but a graphene film kept the bright pink at upper left undimmed. Credit: M. Kotsidi et al./Nature Nanotechnol.

Materials science

A graphene cloak keeps artworks’ colours ageless

A layer of carbon atoms preserves a painting’s vibrant hues — and can be applied and removed without damage.
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