"A contaminated lake designated hazardous is turning out to be a source of novel chemicals that could help fight migraines and cancer. "It's exciting to know that something toxic and dangerous might contain something of value," says Andrea Stierle, a chemist at the University of Montana in Butte.
Berkeley Pit Lake, also in Butte, filled with groundwater after the copper mine closed in 1982. Dissolved metal compounds such as iron pyrites give the lake a pH of 2.5 that makes it impossible for most aquatic life to survive. In 1995 Stierle discovered novel forms of fungi and bacteria in the lake.
More recently her team has found a strain of the pithomyces fungi producing a compound that binds to a receptor that causes migraines and could block headaches, while a strain of penicillium fungi makes a different compound that inhibits the growth of lung cancer cells. This week they reveal that a novel compound called berkelic acid from another new strain of penicillium fungus reduces the rate of ovarian cancer cell growth by 50 per cent (Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol 71, p 5357).
Stierle is rushing to identify more of these extremophile creatures before the toxic site is cleaned up.
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