Fluoride for a meal

Bacteria to help tackle fluorosis

By Biplab Das
Published: Monday 15 May 2006

a team of scientists from West Bengal has found a microbe that could help treat fluoride-contaminated water, the chief cause for fluorosis. "After laboratory culture of three bacteria culled from fluoride-affected areas from Birbhum district of West Bengal, we have isolated a strain of Streptococcus species that could remove fluoride from water," says Santanu Ray, who led the researchers from Visva-Bharati University and Jadavpur University. Fluorosis, which affects 17 states, can deform organs and trigger gastro-intestinal ailments.

While examining water samples collected from Nasipur block in Birbhum, Ray and his teammates chanced upon some samples with fluoride levels below the safe limit (3.5 parts per million) prescribed by the World Health Organization. Following further analysis, they found three different bacteria.

"In culture medium, only the yellow strain bacteria (Streptococcus) reduced fluoride content," write Ray and his colleagues in a recent issue of Journal of Biological Systems (Vol 14, No 1). "The yellow strain bacteria devour fluoride by converting it into organofluoride compound in their body cell," Ray concludes adding, "We plan to hunt down the genes that endow the bug with such ability and help genetically engineer fluoride-eating bugs.

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