Swatch #02 eco digital colour

The Swatch this month uncovers the emergent industry of biological mining and explores the role that synthetic biology could have on recovering valuable metals sourced from e-waste.

Specially designed microbes, plants or mycelium could have a role in replacing traditional mining techniques whilst remediating polluted landscapes, reducing embodied CO2 and advancing the recovery of resources from e-waste.

As we transition to an electric-dependant society with the rise of electronics, EV’s and new home power supply, the demand for metals, like copper and precious metals, will only increase. Analysts have estimated that virgin sources of copper will be gone by 2026 and 2030, for gold. In addition, many of these key metals and minerals come from conflict areas with unethical working practices. Startups in the business of engineering biology are looking to address these problems:

@cemvita_factory aims to use CRISPR engineered microbes to mine copper, gold and zinc from mine waste tailings and low-grade ore using clean, cheap biological processes that require very low energy use.

In the Malaysian jungle, a certain species of plant is being farmed to harvest nickel, drawn up through its roots in a process called 'phytomining' – a key element for the manufacture of stainless steel.

See above for the harvesting gold animation by @jam.finni for Karoline Healy, who is currently researching biological derived precious metals for use in jewellery: @h2erg_jewellery

Swipe once for @cemvita_factory on ore-eating microbes.Swipe twice to see the nickel-rich sap bleeding from the hyperaccumulator, Phyllanthus Rufuschaneyi, researched by Anthony van der Ent.

Swipe three times to see the Fusarium Oxysporum fungus which gathers gold nanoparticles: @csirogram