Princeton professor discover microbe that eats cancer-causing chemicals

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A Princeton University professor has discovered a microbe in New Jersey soil that can help get rid of dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals.

Professor Peter Jaffe says that he discovered the microbe, dubbed “A6” in the soil of the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area in Monmouth County.

This microbe has been shown to consume a group of cancer-causing chemicals known as PFAS. The chemicals have been used for decades in firefighting foam, Teflon cookware and fabric waterproofing.

“I told my students, let's get some soil cores in the lab and put them in a vial and incubate them,” Jaffe says. “I knew it was an important finding from a science and engineering point of view.”

PFAS contamination has spread everywhere. It is a problem around military bases like Joint Base McGuire-Dix, where chemicals from firefighting foam have seeped into the ground. Cleanup of these sites has been difficult because there has never been any way to break down what are sometimes called "forever chemicals."

Jaffe says that the task now is to put the A6 microbe to work – such as by building reactors to treat contaminated water.

A6 is not the first notable microbe that was discovered in New Jersey soil. Scientists in 1916 discovered a different microbe that was used to fight tuberculosis.

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