Bacteria is something of a dirty word. They’re everywhere, invisible and insidious, waiting for their chance to climb into your body and wreak havoc. But before you reach for your hand sanitizer and start counting your sick days, take a moment to consider the many uses that people have found for bacteria. Bacteria are essential in making yogurt and cheese, fixing nitrogen for our crops, and they help us digest our food. In the near future, Damian Palin would like to add mining the ocean to the list of things bacteria do for us.
Damian Palin, a geomicrobiologist working in Singapore, has been developing bacteria strains that can be used to precipitate useful minerals out of the briny effluent produced by desalination plants. If he is successful, he would be killing two birds with one stone: useful minerals that would otherwise go to waste could be extracted, and the highly concentrated brine could be treated before it is pumped back into the ocean.
Biomining is already used to extract gold, copper, iron and uranium from low grade ores that were once thought to be worthless. Using bacteria to mine for useful metals is less destructive and less energy intensive than traditional mining methods. As the global demand for metals increases, bacteria’s ability to mine metals from unusual sources will become increasingly important.
To watch Damian Palin’s TED presentation, click here.
Palin, Damian. "Damian Palin: Mining Minerals from Seawater." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. N.p., June 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2012 <http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/damian_palin_mining_minerals_from_seawater.html>.
Siddiqui, Mohd. H., Ashish Kumar, Kavindra Kumar Kesari, and Jamal M. Arif. "Biomining- A Useful Approach Toward Metal Extraction." American-Eurasian Journal of Agronomy (2009): 84-88. Print.
Wassenar, T. M. "Applied Bacteriology: Use of Bacteria in Industry." The Virtual Museum of Bacteria. N.p., 06 Jan. 2009. Web. 20 Aug. 2012 <http://bacteriamuseum.org/cms/Bacteria/applied-bacteriology-use-of-bacteria-in-industry.html>.