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Study finds new way to clean up radioactive sites, protect radiotherapy patients, astronauts via


According to a collaborative study, led by researchers at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, published Dec. 20 in PLOS One, “Microbial cells can cooperate to resist high-level chronic ionizing radiation,” the team examined growth characteristics of  under high-level continuous gamma radiation. They found radiation-sensitive bacteria, E. coli (Escherichi coli), when mixed with radiation-resistant bacteria, Deinococcus radiodurans, can survive high doses of chronic ionizing radiation.

These findings suggest the Deinococcus bacteria (and also some fungi)—which express high concentrations of antioxidants—could be used as a natural radioprotective probiotic to protect microbes in the intestines of radio- and chemotherapy patients. These unexpected findings also suggest a new tool that could help protect  and astronauts who experience gastrointestinal side effects from high levels of chronic ionizing radiation.

In 2004, it was discovered that radiation-sensitive bacteria were living alongside extremely radiation-resistant bacteria underneath a leaking Cold War radioactive  tank holding leftovers from the Manhattan Project. The team of scientists at USU sought to better understand this mystery—why it is that, in radioactive waste sites, radiation-sensitive bacteria can survive where only extremely radiation-resistant bacteria usually grow.

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