Release the metal-eating bacteria! (for saving the environment, of course)
A team of researchers from Chile led by biotechnologist Nadac Reales have discovered a special type of bacteria that can eat nail in three days when it’s starving. You might be wondering, okay, what’s that got to do with anything? Well, as we all know, mining pollution is a great threat to our environment. If the waste is not properly disposed of, it can lead to water pollution from mine waste, heavy metals, or acidic materials.
In order to overcome the waste problem, researchers came up with nail-eating bacteria as a solution. This newly discovered method involves extremophiles, which are microorganisms that can survive in very harsh environments. Reales and her team studied an iron-oxidizing bacteria called Leptospirillum by isolating it from the Tatio geysers, located 13,779 feet above sea level from Antofagasta.
Leptospirillum is also used for other industrial applications such as bioleaching, the process of converting metals to a soluble form and oxidation, which is the extraction of metals. The bacteria thrived in an acidic environment where there was a large quantity of metals and when the researchers started the experiment, it took the bacteria two months to “eat” through a nail. With more experimenting and testing, the researchers found that the speed of devouring the metals could be increased and the bacteria could eat a nail in just three days.
Don’t worry, the bacteria is not harmful to humans or the surrounding environment which was confirmed by the chemical and microbiological tests conducted by the researchers. After the bacteria is done with a nail, it leaves behind a crimson liquid residue known as a lixiviant which sounds like a magic elixir straight from a Final Fantasy game. The liquid has unique qualities of its own and can “improve the recovery of copper in a process called hydrometallurgy.” This makes it feasible for conducting “green mining” in the future, as stated by Reales.