Marine Bacteria Produce Flame-Retardant Compounds

Written by on July 18, 2014 in Marine Life

A new study shows that a group of marine bacteria produce compounds nearly identical to man-made fire retardants.

Previous studies have found high concentrations of PBDEs in common foods, such as salmon. Photo credit: NOAA.

Previous studies have found high concentrations of PBDEs in common foods, such as salmon. Photo credit: NOAA.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), the chemicals produced by the “widely distributed” group of marine bacteria, which are combined into foam, textiles and electronics to raise the temperature at which the products will burn.

“We find it very surprising and a tad alarming that flame retardant-like chemicals are biologically synthesized by common bacteria in the marine environment,” senior author Dr. Bradley Moore, a professor at the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Scripps Institution of Oceanography said in a news release.

Previously, researchers believed that PBDEs were anthropogenic (man-made) and found in marine mammal tissue as a result of pollution. This study reveals, however, that there is a natural source of the compound, in addition to the anthropogenic one. It was the first study to isolate and identify bacteria that synthesize these compounds, which may help explain the presence of PBDEs in the marine food chain.

Dr. Vinayak Agarwal, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher with the Scripps Center for Oceans and Human Health explained that “The next step is to look more broadly in the marine environment for the distribution of this gene signature and to document how these compounds are entering the food chain,”

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Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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