Chilean scientist plans to clean up mining with 'metal eating' bacteria

(VOVWORLD) - In her laboratory in Antofagasta, an industrial town 1,100-kilometers north of Santiago, Chile, 33-year-old biotechnologist Nadac Reales has been testing extremophiles— organisms that live in extreme environments.

Reales came up with her idea while still at university conducting tests at a mining plant using microorganisms to improve the extraction of copper.

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

At first the bacteria took two months to disintegrate a nail. 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 said "chemical and microbiological tests" have proved the bacteria are not harmful to humans or the environment.

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