11 Dec 2003
Biotechnologists with their omnivorous bacteria have now found their way to dimethylhydrazine, or heptyl, a very poisonous rocket fuel.
Scientists at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and a group of researchers from the Research Center of Toxicology and Hygienic Regulation of Biopreparations conduct work on its bioutilization at the polygon of Research Institute Chimmash at Peresvet.
To find out on which microbe to place one's chips, so to speak, the biologists sprinkled samples of soil onto a nutritious medium, soil collected from places heavily polluted by heptyl or UDMH. The Russian specialists decided to work with the bacteria Rodococcus, or "red ball", while their Kazak colleagues noted azotobacter as one of the most promising types.
At the polygon of Research Institute Chimmash a rhodococcus culture was introduced into soil polluted with heptyl and then the quantity of poison in the earth and its level of toxicity were observed. Over two months they compared how two sectors were cleaned; one the experimental area, the other an equally poisoned area, only without the introduction of microbes. It transpired that if there is little heptyl in the soil, which is generally the case, then biorecultivation is both effective and inexpensive.
In addition to the addition of microbes, Kazak scientists propose that polluted areas be sprinkled with amaranth. According to their data, this plant possesses a definite tendency to accumulate heptyl from the soil. This means it can then be simply cut and destroyed. The scientists performed a series of laboratory experiments, whereby they added a little biohumous into the test soil, into which the bacteria culture had been introduced and which contained 20mg of heptyl per kilogram. In this instance the laboratory cultures reduced the UDMH content fourfold in a day. The biologists then defined the quality of the work of the microbes, having sown barley and wheat into the samples. UDMH migrates from the soil to the plants most actively and, thus, it is especially dangerous to land fauna. The WHO has classed heptyl and products of its decay as first order hazards. Meanwhile all the space powers use UDMH as a rocket fuel.