Scientist: A Chilean biotechnologist named Nadac Reales, from the city of Antofagasta, is proposing a natural solution to eliminate tons of toxic waste produced by copper mining in Chile: “metal-eating” bacteria. In tests carried out with extremophiles, organisms that survive or require extreme geochemical conditions, the scientist isolated bacteria capable of “eating” a nail in three days.
In an interview with the AFP agency, the biotechnologist says that the idea arose even at the university, when she was carrying out tests with microorganisms in a copper mining company with the aim of improving the extraction of the ore. Reales says she was intrigued by the fate of metallic waste.
Although some of them can be recycled in blast furnaces at smelting plants, the gigantic truck hoppers used in mining, capable of receiving up to 50 tons of rock, are simply discarded in the Atacama Desert. This pollution can be devastating to the watersheds of a large part of the South American continent, due to the unbridled accumulation of mineral residues, heavy metals and acidic water.
The methodology recently developed by Reale, who currently runs his own company – Rudanac Biotec – was based on the study of extremophiles, specifically on an iron-oxidizing bacteria known as Leptospirillum, which the scientist successfully isolated from Tatio geysers, known as its irregularity and located at 4,200 meters of altitude.
To AFP, Reales explained that this type of bacteria “lives in an acidic environment that is practically immune to the high concentrations of most metals”. In the initial tests, the bacteria took two months to dissolve a nail, but when they became hungry they were able to adapt and, after two years, the rate of feeding evolved, and the nail was devoured in three days.