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Биотехнологии Usage of microorganisms - decomposers of hydrocarbons for sewage treatment of the oil refining enterprises and the soils polluted by oil
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Lectures 25-26

A radionuclide is an atom with an unstable nucleus, characterized by excess energy available to be imparted either to a newly created radiation particle within the nucleus or via internal conversion. During this process, the radionuclide is said to undergo radioactive decay, resulting in the emission of gamma ray(s) and/or subatomic particles such as alpha or beta particles. These emissions constitute ionizing radiation. Radionuclides occur naturally, or can be produced artificially.

Radionuclides are often referred to by chemists and physicists as radioactive isotopes or radioisotopes. Radioisotopes with suitable half-lives play an important part in a number of technologies (for example, nuclear medicine). Radionuclides can also present both real and perceived dangers to health.

The number of radionuclides is uncertain because the number of very short-lived radionuclides that have yet to be characterized is extremely large and potentially unquantifiable. Even the number of long-lived radionuclides is uncertain (to a lesser degree), because many "stable" nuclides are calculated to have half-lives so long that their decay has not been experimentally measured. The total list of nuclides contains 90 nuclides that are theoretically stable, and 255 total stable nuclides that have not been observed to decay. In addition, there exist about 650 radionuclides that have been experimentally observed to decay, with half-lives longer than 60 minutes (see list of nuclides for this list). Of these, about 339 are known from nature (they have been observed on Earth, and not as a consequence of man-made activities).

Including artificially produced nuclides, more than 3300 nuclides are known (including ~3000 radionuclides), many of which (> ~2400) have decay half-lives shorter than 60 minutes. This list expands as new radionuclides with very short half-lives are characterized.

All elements form a number of radionuclides, although the half lives of many are too short for them to be observed in nature. Even the lightest element, hydrogen, has a well-known radioisotope, tritium. The heaviest elements (heavier than bismuth) exist only as radionuclides. For every chemical element, many radioisotopes that do not occur in nature (due to short half lives or the lack of an ongoing natural production mechanism), have been produced artificially.

Naturally occurring radionuclides fall into three categories: primordial radionuclides, secondary radionuclides, and cosmogenic radionuclides. Primordial radionuclides, such as uranium and thorium, originate mainly from the interiors of stars and are still present as their half-lives are so long they have not yet completely decayed. Secondary radionuclides are radiogenic isotopes derived from the decay of primordial radionuclides. They have shorter half-lives than primordial radionuclides. Cosmogenic isotopes, such as carbon-14, are present because they are continually being formed in the atmosphere due to cosmic rays.

Artificially produced radionuclides can be produced by nuclear reactors, particle accelerators or by radionuclide generators:

Radioisotopes produced with nuclear reactors exploit the high flux of neutrons present. These neutrons activate elements placed within the reactor. A typical product from a nuclear reactor is thallium-201 and iridium-192. The elements that have a large propensity to take up the neutrons in the reactor are said to have a high neutron cross-section.

Particle accelerators such as cyclotrons accelerate particles to bombard a target to produce radionuclides. Cyclotrons accelerate protons at a target to produce positron emitting radionuclides, e.g., fluorine-18.

Radionuclide generators contain a parent radionuclide that decays to produce a radioactive daughter. The parent is usually produced in a nuclear reactor. A typical example is the technetium-99m generator used in nuclear medicine. The parent produced in the reactor is molybdenum-99.

Radionuclides are produced as an unavoidable side effect of nuclear and thermonuclear explosions.

Trace radionuclides are those that occur in tiny amounts in nature either due to inherent rarity, or to half-lives that are significantly shorter than the age of the Earth. Synthetic isotopes are inherently not naturally occurring on Earth, but can be created by nuclear reactions.

Radionuclides are used in two major ways: for their chemical properties and as sources of radiation. Radionuclides of familiar elements such as carbon can serve as tracers because they are chemically very similar to the non-radioactive nuclides, so most chemical, biological, and ecological processes treat them in a near identical way. One can then examine the result with a radiation detector, such as a geiger counter, to determine where the provided atoms ended up. For example, one might culture plants in an environment in which the carbon dioxide contained radioactive carbon; then the parts of the plant that had laid down atmospheric carbon would be radioactive.

In nuclear medicine, radioisotopes are used for diagnosis, treatment, and research. Radioactive chemical tracers emitting gamma rays or positrons can provide diagnostic information about a person's internal anatomy and the functioning of specific organs. This is used in some forms of tomography: single-photon emission computed tomography and positron emission tomography scanning and Cerenkov luminescence imaging.

Radioisotopes are also a method of treatment in hemopoietic forms of tumors; the success for treatment of solid tumors has been limited. More powerful gamma sources sterilise syringes and other medical equipment.

In biochemistry and genetics, radionuclides label molecules and allow tracing chemical and physiological processes occurring in living organisms, such as DNA replication or amino acid transport.

In food preservation, radiation is used to stop the sprouting of root crops after harvesting, to kill parasites and pests, and to control the ripening of stored fruit and vegetables.

In industry, and in mining, radionuclides examine welds, to detect leaks, to study the rate of wear, erosion and corrosion of metals, and for on-stream analysis of a wide range of minerals and fuels.

Radionuclides are also used to trace and analyze pollutants, to study the movement of surface water, and to measure water runoffs from rain and snow, as well as the flow rates of streams and rivers. Natural radionuclides are used in geology, archaeology, and paleontology to measure ages of rocks, minerals, and fossil materials.

An average gram of soil contains approximately one billion (1,000,000,000) microbes representing probably several thousand species. Microorganisms have special impact on the whole biosphere. They are the backbone of ecosystems of the zones where light cannot approach. In such zones, chemosynthetic bacteria are present which provide energy and carbon to the other organisms there. Some microbes are decomposers which have ability to recycle the nutrients. Microbes have a special role in biogeochemical cycles. Microbes, especially bacteria, are of great importance because their symbiotic relationship (either positive, neutral, or negative) have special effects on the ecosystem.

Microorganisms are used for in-situ microbial biodegradation or bioremediation of domestic, agricultural and industrial wastes and subsurface pollution in soils, sediments and marine environments. The ability of each microorganism to degrade toxic waste depends on the nature of each contaminant. Since most sites typically have multiple pollutant types, the most effective approach to microbial biodegradation is to use a mixture of bacterial species and strains, each specific to the biodegradation of one or more types of contaminants. It is vital to monitor the composition of the indigenous and added bacteria in order to evaluate the activity level and to permit modifications of the nutrients and other conditions for optimizing the bioremediation process.

Control questions:

  1. Which nuclides are radioactive?

2. Usage of microorganisms - decomposers of hydrocarbons for sewage treatment of the oil refining enterprises and the soils polluted by oil.

3. Technology of the soils bioremediation polluted by heavy metals, radionuclides, organic substances and other toxic substances.

4. The basic stages - selection of bioobjects - hyperaccumulators of pollutants, methods of their cultivation, separation and extraction of toxycant.