An Ohio State University study suggests ultrasound and algae can be used together to clean mercury from contaminated sediment.

The OSU research might one day lead to a ship-borne device that cleans toxic metals from waterways without harming fish or other wildlife, said Engineering Professor Linda Weavers, whose research group previously determined ultrasonic vibrations can shake mercury loose from sediment.

We found ultrasound to be very effective at getting mercury out of sediment and into water, said Weavers. But then we needed a third party to get the mercury out of the water. That’s how we got the idea to add a biological element to the treatment.

Weavers and doctoral student Ziqi He joined with Richard Sayre, professor of plant, cellular and molecular biology at Ohio State, and Surasak Siripornadulsil, a former graduate student in the university’s biophysics program. Sayre’s team has genetically modified a species of algae to boost its natural ability to absorb heavy metals.

He described the study during a poster session Monday at the American Chemical Society meeting in Atlanta.