Read the full article by Charlotte Hsu (UB News Center)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — They’re used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products, and they degrade so slowly that they’ve earned the nickname ‘forever chemicals.’

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have contaminated air, soil and water around the world, and their ubiquity and persistence make them a nightmare to clean up.

But what if we could take the ‘forever’ out of these forever chemicals, and invent new ways to break some of them down?

That’s one goal of a series of studies led by University at Buffalo researcher Diana Aga, PhD, director of the UB RENEW Institute and Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. UB faculty, students and postdoctoral researchers are engaged in these projects, as well as partners from other institutions.

Using bacteria and bioreactors to clean wastewater: This study brings together teams from UB and the University of Southern California (USC) to develop anaerobic membrane bioreactors that use bacteria and membranes to remove certain PFAS from wastewater. Scientists will identify microbes that help to break down PFAS, and deploy cutting-edge analytical methods to understand how PFAS are being degraded and whether the chopped-up remains may still be toxic. The $500,000 project was funded in 2021 by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).

Combining nanotech with microbes to destroy PFAS: UB and University of Pittsburgh researchers are coupling materials science with microbiology in the quest to clean wastewater. This study aims to design nanomaterials that can snip up certain PFAS, and to cultivate bacteria that can consume the leftover scraps. The team will use advanced mass spectrometry and computer modeling to understand what happens at each step of the process. Ideally, Aga says, “We will know what the byproducts are, and how the PFAS are interacting with the nanomaterials and microbes. Our goal is to be able to predict exactly where the molecule will degrade, and how it will degrade.” The $1.5 million project was funded in 2021 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Superfund Research Program.”…