Metal-eating bacteria are a unique group of microorganisms that have the ability to rust or corrode metals for a bunch of environmentally friendly practices. I became interested in these buggers a couple of years ago and recently ended up writing a novel, METAL, based on them.
Metal rusters will soon impact several key areas more than you would imagine. They will transform waste management, mining, and may even produce energy.
NOT JUST ONE METAL
This group of bacteria can corrode a range of metals including iron, steel, stainless, nickel, zinc, and more. Each different strain consumes a specific metal. For example, some rusters thrive on iron and manganese while others demolish nickel and cobalt. Some types need more oxygen and some like acidic environments. Others thrive with particular types of nutrients and minerals.
Did you know that steel-eating bacteria are slowly demolishing the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. Soon, there won’t be any wreckage for anyone to see.
HOW THEY WORK
Nerd Warning: Metal-eating bacteria use metal ions (atoms with extra or fewer electrons) like plants use sunlight and normal bacteria live off of organic matter. The rusters steal electrons from over-charged metals for energy. Another group, like the ones that corrode aluminum and stainless, give electrons to under-charged metals. Both groups catalyze and gain energy from the reactions.
Metal-eating bacteria can be used to clean up contaminated soils and groundwater by breaking down metal ions and reducing their toxicity. This process is known as bioremediation and can be used to detox places polluted with dangerous materials like lead, cadmium, and mercury.
These microbes can pull valuable metals out of ores and minerals in a process known as bioleaching. This method is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than traditional mining methods as it uses bacteria instead of undesirable chemicals.
Some bacteria could be used as a source of renewable energy. By harnessing the energy generated by metal respiration, some rusters produce electricity. They are essentially environmentally friendly fuel cells.
METAL, MY NOVEL
When a disease begins rusting important metals overnight, Terrance Mathison, a veteran turned bioengineer, must assemble a team to find a cure as society crumbles.