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article imageBacteria can reveal ‘rare earth’ metals

By Tim Sandle     Nov 5, 2013 in Science
Certain bacteria require rare earth metals to grow. Detecting these bacteria can offer clues as to where rare earth metals are located.
Rare earth metals are used in mobile telephones, display screens and computers, and they are relatively valuable. Scientists have now found out that a bacterium that grows around hot springs requires key rare earth metals to function. When alloyed with other metals, the rare-earths can provide enhanced magnetic, strength and high temperature and other properties. For example, high-strength magnets made from neodymium-iron--boron have been used in a variety of products, including electric motors and hybrid cars components.
The bacterium is Methylacidiphilum fumariolicum, and it requires lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium or neodymium to produce enzymes, which, in turn, provide energy through the processing of methane gas. The organism was located in a mud pot of volcanic origin in the Solfatara crater (Italy).
The bacterium survives at conditions that would kill most other microorganisms: at a pH value of between 2 and 5 and temperatures of between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius.
Scientists hope that the detection of the microorganism might lead to the location of sources of rare earth metals.
The research was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. The findings have been published in the journal Environmental Microbiology, in a paper titled “Rare earth metals are essential for methanotrophic life in volcanic mudpots.”
More about Bacteria, Metal, Rare earth, Hot springs, Geysers
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