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Toxin-Eating Bacteria

Aerial view of flamingos over Lake Bogoria, Kenya. This saline, alkaline lake is abundant with cynobacteria that attracts large numbers of flamingos, sometimes 1 million at a time.

Martin Harvey/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Many of us probably think of algae as that gross stuff that we have to clean out of our fish tanks every now and then, but they can be a serious threat to health as well. Blooms of blue-green algae, called cyanobacteria, are found in both fresh and salt water throughout the world. They produce toxins called microcystins which are easily ingested by people who drink, swim or bathe in water that's contaminated with them. Once microcystins get into your body, they can attack your liver cells. That's obviously not something that you want to happen.

Unfortunately, conventional water treatment methods, such as sand filtration and chlorination, don't get rid of these tiny menaces. That's why a new purification method developed by researchers at Scotland's Robert Gordon University has so much promise. The researchers have identified more than 10 different strains of bacteria that like to have microcystins for lunch, and are capable of metabolizing them so that they break down into harmless, non-toxic materials. If the algae-killer bacteria are introduced into water sources, they should be able to get rid of the microcystins and make the water safe to drink without using any potentially harmful chemicals [source: Science Daily].

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