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SRNL is Hot on the [Fungi] Trail

August 6, 2010 - 9:20am

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“Mold research” is probably not the most glamorous sounding job out there. While some types of mold are good – cultured molds are used in food production and a variety of medications are derived from mold – many common household molds are your basic “gross” variety: not only a nuisance to clean up but hazardous to your health. Unfortunately, with recent national disasters and flooding events across the country, more and more families are dealing with these damaging molds on a regular basis – creating a need to identify the most toxic mold types, determine the best way to clean structures, and look into how to prepare housing materials to prevent mold growth.

This is why a team of microbiologists at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) are hard at work with Tuskegee University and Mississippi State University on the “Effective Mold and Contaminant Remediation for Flood and Water Damaged Homes” project – to decrease mold growth in flooded homes through improved prevention and cleanup.

While it’s obviously important work, it also turns out that mold research can be more interesting than many popular TV shows. For instance, did you know that microbes have fingerprints? SRNL researcher Scott Miller explains:

“Just as humans can be identified by their unique fingerprint patterns, microbes can also be identified by their unique DNA fingerprint composed of specific DNA sequences. In this project, we will use a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) to amplify and analyze the unique DNA of any mold contamination present on the flooded housing materials. The results generated from the qPCR will provide a DNA fingerprint for any mold present that could cause a health hazard to humans. Using the DNA fingerprint, we can determine whether the mold is a health concern and how much mold is present.”

In addition to DNA fingerprinting, the team will use its expertise and bioanalytical equipment to measure and characterize mold in samples from recent experiments conducted at Tuskegee University. In the experiments, researchers simulated hurricane conditions by flooding a building with lake water for three weeks, draining it, and then letting the mold grow for another three weeks while the building was vacant. Basically, the SRNL team will be evaluating the building’s various structural materials for their ability to resist mold growth. Since the molds collected from the building represents types of fungi that would typically grow after severe flooding, hurricanes or other water damage, building restoration techniques will also be tested and evaluated.

SRNL expects to produce results from the team’s research by the fall of 2010 and complete the project by the fall of 2011. Be on the lookout for the full report.

To learn more about this and other SRNL projects, visit srnl.doe.gov

Liz Meckes is a New Media Specialist with the Office of Public Affairs.

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