Research Fellows Directory
Professor Jonathan Lloyd
University of Manchester
Over the last 3.5 billion years microbial life has bloomed in the terrestrial, marine and subsurface compartments of our planet. In these environments microorganisms (including bacteria, archaea, algae and fungi) have shown the surprising ability to survive highly toxic metals, organics and physical-chemical extremes (pH, temperature, desiccation etc.). There have also been reports that microbes can survive in highly radioactive environments ranging from the still highly radioactive Chernobyl reactor through to a range of other inhospitable areas of currently operating nuclear facilities worldwide.
Given that we are planning to increase our nuclear power generating capability to meet an impending energy gap, we must learn more about the impact of our nuclear waste on the environment. Given that microbial life seems to be surprisingly tolerant to radioactivity, it is now a good time to focus our attention on the range of microbes that can survive in such locations. Understanding life processes in the most extreme environments on Earth is clearly a very exciting prospect, but it could also be very useful. We can’t really store our nuclear waste materials safely until we understand how microbes can interact with them. For example, exotic microbial communities living around radioactive waste materials may help degrade them and disperse radioactive elements through the environment, but they could also be harnessed to make subtle chemical changes that lock the toxic contaminants up safely for very long periods of time. If the radioactive elements can be entrapped for long enough (millions of years) through these natural “nanotechnology” processes, then the radioactivity of the materials will decay away making them safe. Thus, the research that I am conducting with my industrial host (the Nuclear National Laboratory) will help us plan more effectively for our nuclear future.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)