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Formulas to Help Microbes Clean Up Toxic Waste

By Jill Lee
March 26, 1997

Microorganisms will work hard to clean toxins from the soil or wipe out food crop pests, but you have to treat them right, scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service say.

The scientists have successfully harnessed the power of fungi to help banish weeds and insects from farmers’ fields. A crucial discovery along the way: The right storage formula will make the fungi multiply.

One such formula is wheat-based Pesta, which provides a nourishing “home” for two biological controls against swamp dodder, a pest of cranberries.

Scientists from New Orleans’ Tulane University adapted the ARS technology to their work with soil-cleansing fungi. The story of their collaborative efforts with ARS scientists appears in the March issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

The Cold War’s end brought closure for many weapons plants, but toxic TNT residues remain as deadly souvenirs. Phanerochaete chrysosporium, commonly known as white rot fungi, may have the power to break down these poisons into harmless by-products. But before this can happen, a good storage medium must be found.

ARS scientists have developed a wide menu of formulas to keep white rot fungi and other microorganisms thriving so they can reach their full potential as soil cleaners and pest fighters. Their next collaborative project with Tulane: finding the right formula for a mushroom that might cleanse the carcinogen benzo[a]pyrene out of soils.

Scientific contact: William Connick and Don Daigle, ARS Southern Regional Research Center, New Orleans, La., phone (504) 286-4363/4511, e-mail and