Starving microorganisms capable of surviving in extreme conditions have already managed to “eat” a nail in just three days. In Chile, a scientist is testing “metal-eating” bacteria she hopes could help clean up the country’s highly-polluting mining industry.
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 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.
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