Beyond the Go-To Microbe

Microbes Feeding on Petroleum

Microbes Feeding on Petroleum

Rapid, cost-effective complete genome sequencing (CGS) has opened a universe of possibilities.  New discoveries. A better understanding of life. New ways to solve modern problems.  The new advances could some day show the innovation of CGS technology to be as important as the discovery of fire.

One problem faster CGS is solving is confirming that the “right microbes” are present for environmental cleanup. Until CGS, scientists had only classified 10% of microbes in nature, guessing how the unculturable microbes related to each other.  Supercomputers are changing this limitation.

Over the past five to ten years, bioremediation practitioners have increasingly used specialized microbial strains to help them with environmental cleanup, termed “bio-augmentation.”  For example, various strains of Dehalococcoides ethenogenes have been the go-to microbe to treat chlorinated ethenes (at dry cleaning sites, for example).  This was largely because it was one of the first species to be successfully cultured and shared among researchers.  CGS and other genetic tools have revealed numerous additional microbes are able to perform some of the specialized reactions. We can now pick a sequenced gene, check for the simple presence of that gene, and then see if that gene is present in any microbes in a soil or groundwater sample.

While the newest tools have helped us, one critical fact remains the same. Give the microbes the food, nutrients, and growing conditions they need, and they will degrade contamination into something less dangerous to people and the environment.  We continue to work with nature to fix our transgressions against it.

Challenge to End Hunger

Food Frenzy Pet Contest

Our hallway is lined with photos of staff members’ pets. We vote with our change and small bills. The categories are cats, dogs, and “exotic” (which includes chickens, snakes, gerbils, or whatever doesn’t fit into the other two categories).

Food Frenzy books

Geochemist Anne Conrad looks to see what’s new in our book sale. Many employees collected books, CD, and DVDs to donate while spring cleaning at home. There’s a nice selection this year!

Food Frenzy, the two-week-long annual event sponsored by Food Lifeline, is going on right now. Hart Crowser is just one of many Seattle-area companies who are challenging each other in this competition to raise funds to help end hunger for children in Western Washington. This is our second year participating and we’re having a blast. So far we kicked off a book sale and launched a competition for the cutest pet. We are having bake sales and a silent auction this week. And we’ve had teams of volunteers working at Food Lifeline warehouses to earn even more points in the competition.

If your company wants to join the fun next year, contact Food Lifeline.

That’s Not Real Blood And Gore


Ward McDonald and Megan Higgins portray accident victims in a wilderness training class

Environmental scientists and engineers often go deep into the wilderness to sample surface water, sediment, soil, and groundwater.  Some sites may take hours to hike into, and others may only be accessible by helicopter.  Taking samples is not highly dangerous in itself, but a medical emergency in a remote and unpredictable environment requires a different level of first aid training.

With this in mind, some of our staff recently took an intensive two-day wilderness first aid introduction to remote medicine.  The course was led by paramedic and Mount Rainer guide, Carrie Parker of Remote Medical International.  The material was practical and hands-on: patient assessment, traumatic injuries, medical emergencies, environmental emergencies, lifting and moving patients, and medical kits.

Realistic practice helped participants learn to handle serious situations when they are an hour or more from professional help.  We hope they’ll never have to use these skills, but they’ll be ready if they do.