A team of researchers at the University of Houston have discovered bacteria that naturally converts toxic copper ions into metallic copper
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Spotted: Despite copper being one of the most commonly used metals, the process of extracting and refining it into a useful form is energy-intensive and requires harsh chemical treatments. As a solution, a team of researchers at the University of Houston have isolated a bacterium found in copper mines that can convert toxic forms of copper into usable metallic copper.
Found in a mine in Brazil, the team investigated the Bacillus species and discovered that it is able to survive by converting toxic copper sulfate ions into a stable, single-atom form called zero-valent copper. This process occurs because the bacteria aim to create a less toxic environment for themselves, which in turn creates a metallic copper that is beneficial for human use. With the usual industrial processes having harsh effects on the environment, this could allow mines to sustainably extract valuable materials from waste streams.
The team believes that harnessing bacteria to convert copper into useful forms could end up being safer and more efficient. Therefore, the next steps in the study are to investigate how scalable this process might be for industrial use, and to start harvesting the copper from the bacteria.
Written By: Serafina Basciano