• By The Financial District

Chilean Scientist Plans To Clean Up Mining With Metal-Eating Bacteria

In Chile, a scientist is testing "metal-eating" bacteria she hopes could help clean up the country's highly polluting mining industry, Paula Bustamante reported for Phys.org.

Photo Insert: Chilean scientist Nadac Reales hopes that with the discovery of metal-eating bacteria green mining will follow.

In her laboratory in Antofagasta, an industrial town 1,100-kilometers north of Santiago, 33-year-old biotechnologist Nadac Reales has been carrying out tests with extremophiles—organisms that live in extreme environments.

Reales came up with her idea while still at university as she was conducting tests at a mining plant using microorganisms to improve the extraction of copper. "I realized there were various needs in the mining industry, for example what happened with the metallic waste," she told the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Some metals can be recycled in smelting plants but others, such as HGV truck hoppers that can hold 50 tons of rock, cannot and are often discarded in Chile's Atacama desert, home to the majority of the country's mining industry.

Chile is the world's largest producer of copper, which accounts for up to 15 percent of the country's GDP, resulting in a lot of mining waste that pollutes the environment.

All the news: Business man in suit and tie smiling and reading a newspaper near the financial district.

In her research, Reales, who now runs her own company Rudanac Biotec, concentrated on iron-oxidizing bacteria called Leptospirillum. She extracted the bacteria from the Tatio geysers located 4,200 meters above sea level, some 350 kilometers from Antofagasta.

The bacteria "live in an acidic environment that is practically unaffected by relatively high concentrations of most metals," she said. "At first the bacteria took two months to disintegrate a nail."

Science & technology: Scientist using a microscope in laboratory in the financial district.

But when starved, they had to adapt and find a way of feeding themselves. After two years of trials, the result was a marked increase in the speed at which the bacteria "ate," devouring a nail in just three days. Reales hopes her 'metal eating' bacteria will make green mining "totally feasible."

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