PerspectiveMicrobiology

Breathing Perchlorate

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Science  05 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6128, pp. 38-39
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236336

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Summary

About 20 years ago, investigators discovered that perchlorate (ClO4), a synthetically produced chemical widely used in rocket propellants and explosives, was present at trace levels in many water supplies across the United States (1). Perchlorate can inhibit thyroid function, potentially leading to developmental problems in fetuses and infants (2). The public outcry led to intense research on perchlorate and the environment. Biological reduction was considered a promising treatment strategy for perchlorate, as well as for a related oxyanion, chlorate (ClO3) (1, 3). This approach is based on microorganisms that can respire on, or gain energy from, the reduction of these compounds to chloride. On page 85 of this issue, Liebensteiner et al. show that the hyperthermophilic archaeon Archaeoglobus fulgidus can also respire with perchlorate and chlorate (4). This discovery changes several paradigms about perchlorate and chlorate-reducing microorganisms.

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